The public schools enroll 89,000 students: 92% White, 2% African American, and 2% Asian/Pacific Islander, with 38% living in poverty and 2% learning English. The State spends $17,286 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“Laws for the encouragement of virtue and prevention of vice and immorality ought to be constantly kept in force, and duly executed; and a competent number of schools ought to be maintained in each town unless the general assembly permits other provisions for the convenient instruction of youth.” Vt. Const. Ch. II, § 68.
In 1997, in Brigham v. State, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the State constitution requires the provision of substantially equal educational opportunity to all students. The Court declared the State’s education funding system unconstitutional because it resulted in wide disparities in per-pupil expenditures.
The Court wrote that “…the right to education is so integral to our constitutional form of government, and its guarantees of political and civil rights, that any statutory framework that infringes upon the equal enjoyment of that right bears a commensurate heavy burden of justification…We are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record. The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child's residence.”
The Legislature responded by creating a new funding system within months of the Court’s decision.