FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 1, 2017
MONTPELIER — A celebration noting the 20th anniversary of the Vermont Supreme Court’s Brigham v. State decision will be held Tuesday, Feb. 7, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Cedar Creek Room of the State House.
Handed down on Feb. 5, 1997, the Brigham decision led to sweeping changes in Vermont’s school funding formula. The court determined that the system then in place, the “Foundation Formula,” did not provide equal access to school funds for all children. It ordered the legislature to devise a system that did.
“The State has not provided a persuasive rationale for the undisputed inequities in the current educational funding system,” the justices said in their unanimous decision. “Accordingly, we conclude that the current system, which concededly denies equal educational opportunities, is constitutionally deficient.”
The Legislature, which had previously considered but rejected many reform proposals, immediately focused its attention on school finance reform. Within three months it had fashioned a bill that addressed the court’s concerns about the raising and distributing of school funds and included a new set of school quality standards. Gov. Howard Dean signed the bill, which became Act 60, into law on June 26, 1997, at the school of the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, eight-year-old student Amanda Brigham.
The lawsuit had been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont on behalf of 13 different plaintiffs representing students, school districts, and taxpayers.
The lead attorney in the suit, Robert Gensburg of St. Johnsbury, argued successfully that Vermont’s Constitution established education as a fundamental right and access to that right had to be provided equally under the constitution’s “common benefits” clause (Article 7). The “common benefits” clause would be used as the foundation of another precedent-setting case two years later, the Supreme Court’s Baker v. Vermont marriage equality case.
Speakers at the Feb. 7 event include attorney Gensburg; Carol Brigham, mother of Amanda and a long-time Whiting School Board member; and Allen Gilbert, civil liberties advocate and chair of the plaintiff Worcester School Board in 1995.
The event is free and open to the public.
One Vermont is a coalition of citizens, organizations, and businesses committed to state policies, programs, and public structures that help build a society that works for all Vermonters.