- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne unveiled an ambitious plan Wednesday to cut per-pupil public school spending in Vermont by a third, and use the savings to pay for the state’s young people to attend a Vermont college.

Milne said his aim would be to “provide universal education from Pre-K through post-high school job training or college for Vermont residents at a Vermont tech center, state college or university of the student’s choosing.”

He said the money for the plan - as much as $252 million a year, assuming Vermonters’ attendance at state colleges and the University of Vermont remains at its current number of about 9,000 - would come by reducing per-pupil expenditures in the state’s public elementary and high schools by about a third.

Vermont spends about $17,000 per pupil per year on public education, versus a national average of about $12,000, Milne said. He would seek to achieve savings by consolidating Vermont’s more than 250 school districts into about 15.

Members of the Vermont House Education Committee who studied a similar administrative consolidation proposal last winter and spring concluded that they could not guarantee big savings from the proposal.

And challenged at Wednesday’s news conference on the likelihood that local school boards would go along with reducing per-pupil spending by a third, Milne indicated changes designed to achieve such savings would not be mandatory.

“It’s not a stick; it’s a carrot,” Milne said. Under his plan, local school officials “have the ability to apply savings toward college education or technical center training for your kids. You don’t do that, no problem. I’m not telling you to do it. But if you do it there’s a big incentive.”

Milne said he would start by calling for a two-year cap on the statewide property tax that is the linchpin of Vermont’s current school funding system. Taxpayers need a break from rapidly rising levies, he said, adding that the moratorium would provide time for the governor and lawmakers to develop a new financing system.

That idea drew immediate fire from the campaign of incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, which issued a statement saying a property tax cap would force other taxes, including the income tax, to rise.

“Milne has offered no proposals to control school spending, which means Vermonters should get used to seeing their income taxes go up every year,” said Scott Coriell, Shumlin’s campaign spokesman.

But if Shumlin is opposed to putting more education costs on the income tax, that could put him on a collision course with members of his own party in the Vermont House.

House Democrats held a news conference Wednesday to say they want to shift away from the property tax as a source of school funding and gear school taxes more to Vermonters’ ability to pay.

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