Education Tax Rate Calculations | Frequently Asked Questions

Watch: The Herculean Task of Understanding Vermont's Education Property Taxes

How are the education tax rates set?

The FY20 (2019 – 2020 property tax year) nonhomestead education tax rate, income yield, and homestead property yield were set by the Legislature during the 2019 legislative session.

  • The statewide nonhomestead tax rate is $1.594 per $100 of property value.
  • The homestead property yield is $10,648 which goes with a base rate of $1.00 per $100 of property value.
  • The income yield is $13,081 which goes with a base income rate of 2%. 

The nonhomestead tax rate and homestead yields were set to generate enough property tax revenue to support the anticipated statewide 2019-2020 education spending after all other education fund revenue sources were accounted for.

For the purposes of the Tax Commissioner’s December 1st letter, the forecasted nonhomestead tax rate, homestead yield, and income yield were calibrated so that nonhomestead property tax payers, homestead property payers, and those households who pay based on income all experience the same average change to their tax bills from the previous year. However, the rates and yields are often recalibrated during the legislative session based on updated education fund data (such as approved school budgets) and legislative initiatives.

What is a “yield" and how much is it this year?

Act 46 of 2015 introduced the “property dollar equivalent yield,” often called the “homestead property yield” or just “yield.” Despite its name, there is no connection between how much revenue is raised from a $1.00 homestead (dollar) tax rate and a per pupil spending amount. For example, in FY20 a $1.00 tax rate (on $100 of homestead property) would raise about $420M of revenue and the expected equalized pupil count is about 88,000, so the per pupil “yield” would technically be about $4,775 ($420M/88,000). But the actual FY20 yield that is used in FY20 tax rate calculations is $10,648. Similarly, there is no connection between revenue raised from the 2% base household income percentage and any amount of per pupil spending, so the term “income yield” is also misleading. The income yield used in tax rate calculations for FY20 is $13,081.

How are the yields used to figure the tax rates in my town?

Suppose your town spends $16,000 per pupil.

Households that pay education tax based on property will have a rate (before the CLA is applied) of:

Per Pupil Spending Property Yield Statewide Homestead Rate Tax Rate (per $100 of property value)
$16,000 ÷ $10,648 x $1.00 = $1.5026

For those who pay on income, the calculation is similar, but the yield amount is different:

Per Pupil Spending Income Yield Statewide Income Rate Tax Rate
$16,000 ÷ $13,081 x 2.00% = 2.4463%

A household in this town that is eligible to pay taxes based on income will receive a credit on their FY21 bill (2020-2021 property tax year) for the amount that their education property taxes in FY20 exceeded 2.4463% percent of their 2019 household income (with certain limitations).

What is the CLA?

CLA stands for “Common Level of Appraisal.” It is a method of ensuring that each town is paying its fair share of education property tax to the state’s Education Fund.

In 1997 the Vermont Legislature passed Act 60 in an effort to equalize education funding across the state. Before Act 60 was passed, the amount a town could raise to fund its schools was limited by the amount of property value in the town. Because of that, levels of school funding and therefore educational opportunity varied widely across the state. Act 60 shifted education funding to the state level, creating a statewide education property tax rate and a state “Education Fund” to collect the revenue. This new arrangement of shared education funding responsibility made it necessary to check the accuracy of the town grand lists since they are maintained by town listers, not the state. If the grand list in a town didn’t reflect fair market value, then the town would have ended up sending more or less tax revenue than its fair share to the statewide Education Fund. Since towns don’t reappraise every year, and real estate markets are constantly changing, a correction factor, or “Common Level of Appraisal,” was developed to equalize what is paid in education property taxes across towns. The Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) for every Vermont town is the primary result of the Equalization Study performed by the Tax Department every year. The equalization study compares the ratio of the grand list listed value to the sale price for all the arms-length sales in the town over the prior three-year period. The study considers sales price as the best measurement of fair market value. If grand list values are generally less than sale prices for the recent sales, the town will end up with a CLA less than one hundred percent. If grand list values are generally more than sale prices for the recent sales, the town will end up with a CLA of more than one hundred percent. Once the CLA is determined, it is used to adjust the homestead and nonhomestead education tax rates. The CLA doesn’t change taxpayer’s property values, only the education tax rate in a town - an example of indirect equalization.

The CLA is also used as one measure to determine whether a town must reappraise. During the 2019 legislative session, the legislature changed the requirements so that municipalities must reappraise if the CLA is below 85% or above 115% (Act 51 of 2019, Section 24). Before 2019, there was only a lower threshold and it was 80%.

Act 51 of 2019 (Section 26) introduced the option for towns that are all in the same unified union school district to create an “assessment district” which will ensure that all the towns in the district have the same CLA and therefore the same final homestead and nonhomestead tax rates.    

How is the CLA used?

Suppose the equalization study determined that a town’s a CLA should be .9589, indicating that property in the town is generally listed for 95.89% of what it is selling for. If the homestead tax education tax rate in the town is $1.50 (per $100 of property value) before the CLA is applied, then the actual (final) tax rate would be $1.50/.9589 = $1.5643 (per $100 of property value) after the CLA is applied.

The nonhomestead rate is $1.594 (per $100 of property value) before the CLA is applied in all Vermont towns. In this example town, then the actual (final) nonhomestead education property tax rate will be $1.594/.9589 = $1.6623 (per $100 of property value) after the CLA is applied.

These final rates are what would appear on the property tax bills issued by the town.

How does education spending in my town affect the homestead education tax rate?

Total education spending in a town is not the determinant of tax rates, only the amount spent per-pupil. This means that your town could spend less on education than the prior school year, but if the number of students in your town declines, the tax rate may actually increase from the prior year. The only thing that matters is your town’s per-pupil spending, and Act 46 changed 16 V.S.A. § 563 to make sure that the per-pupil amount was being clearly communicated on town ballots since it is the determinant of tax rates, not total spending.

Suppose your town plans to spend $16,000 per pupil in FY20 (the 2019-2020 school year).

The homesteads who pay education tax based on property will pay (before the CLA is applied):

Per Pupil Spending Property Yield Statewide Homestead Rate Tax Rate (per $100 of property value)
$16,000 ÷ $10,648 x $1.00 = $1.5026

Keep in mind that some towns are members of multiples school districts. In those cases, the town gets a tax rate that is a pro-rated blend of the rates from any districts where the town send students, based on the proportion of students going to each district.

Any merger incentives are applied at the district level tax rate but limitations on year over year changes (as a result of mergers) are applied to the town level tax rate.

The exact calculation steps for your town’s tax rate can be found by checking the FY2020 Homestead Education Tax Rate Calculations.

How do the merger incentives factor into the tax rate calculations?

Act 46 of 2015 offered reductions to the homestead property and homestead income tax rates for districts who choose to merge. The reductions are calculated at the district level and vary by type of merger and year of merger. Additionally, per-pupil spending in a merged district is (usually) a shared figure for all participating towns. Here is an example for a town in the third year of a merger into a “preferred” structure (a single district that encompasses the entire supervisory union).

$16,000 (the per-pupil spending for the whole district) / $10,648 = $1.5026

$1.5026 - .06 (six cents for the third year of incentive) = $1.4426 (homestead tax rate for all towns before CLA)

For mergers into a preferred district, statute guarantees that any merging town’s tax rate cannot increase more than 5% from one year to the next. For other kinds of mergers, any merging town’s tax rate can not increase or decrease by more than 5% from one year to the next.

Is a town’s nonhomestead tax rate adjusted to reflect education spending?

No. The base rate for nonhomestead property is the same for all towns in Vermont. It is adjusted only by the common level of appraisal of the town. If the CLA in a town is 95.89%, the final nonhomestead rate for the town will be:

FY19 State Nonhomestead Rate Town CLA Town Nonhomestead Rate (per $100 of property value)
$1.594 ÷ .9589 =$1.6623

Will there be towns where the nonhomestead tax rate is lower than the homestead tax rate?

Yes, because the homestead rate is impacted by per-pupil spending while the nonhomestead rate is not. Therefore, beyond some per-pupil spending amount, the homestead rate will be higher. That amount happens to be about $16,973 for FY20. Here’s the FY20 homestead tax rate in a town that votes to spend $16,975 per pupil:

Per Pupil Spending Property Yield Statewide Homestead Rate Tax Rate (per $100 of property value)
$16,975 ÷ $10,648 x $1.00 = $1.5942

The nonhomestead rate in that town is $1.5940 (the statewide rate), so the example above has a homestead rate that is a little higher than the statewide nonhomestead rate. The CLA would then be applied to both these rates, but since it’s the same for both, the homestead rate will still be proportionally higher.

Is my town a “sending” town or a “receiving” town?

There are almost no towns in Vermont that can pay for their education spending through the revenue generated from their homestead grand list alone. All towns depend on the other sources of revenue to the education fund to pay for the budgets they approve. The major other sources are (for FY20) all the Sales and Use tax (about 25% of the education fund) and the nonhomestead property tax (about 41% of the education fund).

Both of these revenue sources are considered statewide resources and not town-specific ones, even though some towns may have more nonhomestead property or more businesses remitting sales tax than other towns. For example, a major retailer may have a store located in Chittenden county that has a large nonhomestead listed value and remits a lot of sales taxes to the state. Because Vermonters from many towns shop at this store, the nonhomestead property tax the store pays and the sales tax it remits are considered a statewide resource. These revenues flow into the education fund and are accessible to all districts. The municipal property taxes the retailer pays, however, are controlled by the town where the store is located because that town is responsible for delivering local services to that business.

Does the tax rate in my town depend on the size of our grand list?

No. The municipal tax rate depends on the size of the grand list, but the education tax rate does not.

The municipal tax rate is calculated as the amount of money needed to provide municipal services (after any other sources of funding are accounted for) divided by the total value of the grand list in that town. At a given level of services, if the grand list grows from one year to the next, the municipal tax rate could go down because the base got bigger.

The education tax rate used to be calculated in the same way as the municipal tax rate until Act 60 passed in 1997. Since that point, it doesn’t matter how big the grand list in a town is, the yields and rates are based on the size of the statewide grand list and total statewide education spending. The current system is designed to ensure that approved budgets are fully funded and that towns that spend the same amount per pupil will have the same tax rate (before the CLA is applied) irrespective of how much property value the towns have.   

Is there an additional adjustment for school districts whose per pupil spending is a lot more (excess spending) than the average statewide?

Yes. If a district spends more per-pupil than the “excess spending threshold,” then the overage is counted twice in its per-pupil spending for the purpose of determining its tax rate. 32 V.S.A. §5401(12) and 5401(13). This provision, in effect, double taxes every dollar in excess of the threshold. For FY20 (2019 – 2020 property tax year and school year) the excess spending threshold is $18,311.

As an example, if a district spends $18,500 per pupil, the $189 overage will be double counted, bringing the district’s per-pupil spending (for tax rate purposes) to $18,689. The tax rate will be calculated from that higher number and any towns that send students to the district will be impacted by the higher rate. There are certain types of spending which are not subject to being double-counted, however. These types of spending are detailed in 16 V.S.A. § 4001(6).

My town is completing a reappraisal for the April 1, 2018 grand list. Using the common level of appraisal to adjust the tax rates doesn’t seem fair. Our common level of appraisal was 85% based on last year’s grand list. The tax bills for this year will use a grand list that is at 100% of market value. Will the tax rates be adjusted to account for reappraisals?

Yes. If the Director of Property Valuation and Review certifies that a town has completed a town-wide reappraisal, the common level of appraisal (CLA) for that town is equal to its new grand list value from the reappraisal divided by its most recent equalized grand list value, for purposes of determining education property tax rates. 32 V.S.A. §5406(c).

Most towns also levy taxes for road maintenance and other municipal services. Are there different rates for homestead and nonhomestead properties in these towns?

No. Municipal taxes that pay for roads and other municipal services are levied on the municipal grand list. The town’s governing body determines the amount needed to be raised for town services and divides that figure by the total municipal grand list established by the town listers to arrive at a municipal property tax rate. With the exception of the few communities that have different rates in accordance with their charter, municipal taxes are not subject to tax classification.

Please note that your property tax bill has an education property tax component and (almost always) a municipal property tax component. The rates for each will vary from year to year and increases to total property tax liability could be coming from either source.

I read that some people are able to pay their education tax based on income rather than on the value of their property. How does that work?

Form HS-122, Homestead Declaration must be filed each year by Vermont residents who own their property and occupy it as their domicile. Once the residence is declared as a homestead, it is taxed at the homestead education tax rate (rather than the nonhomestead tax rate). Resident households with 2019 income under roughly $140,000 may be eligible for a property tax creditt and should complete section B of the HS-122 and the HI-144, Household Income Schedule, to claim a property tax credit. The property tax credit compares education property taxes for FY20 against the town’s household income percentage which is calculated from its per pupil spending. If education property taxes were more than that percentage, the difference will be applied as a credit to the FY21 property tax bill, reducing the total amount due.

Households with income less than $47,000 are eligible for additional credits that compare their remaining education property taxes after the first credit is applied against fixed statutory percentages of income, and the difference is added to their education tax credit. 32 V.S.A. §6066(a). Those households are also eligible for a municipal property tax credit which compares their municipal property taxes paid to fixed statutory percentages of income.

The maximum education property tax credit is $5,600 and the maximum municipal property tax credit is $2,400. Starting with 2019-2020 property tax bills, those credits will appear separately on the bill.

What is the “lag” or “lookback” in the property tax credit system?

When you apply for a property tax credit you report your property taxes from the current fiscal year (at the time of tax filing) and your household income from the prior calendar year (that you are filing taxes on). For example, in early 2019 you probably paid your 2018 Vermont income taxes. Included in your tax return, you might have applied for an adjustment where you reported your total household income for 2018 and the total 2018-2019 housesite property taxes from your property tax bill. Only the housesite (house and up to two surrounding acres) property taxes are eligible for adjustment. The tax department calculates your adjustment as the difference between your housesite property taxes based on property and the amount based on income (town household income percentage x household income). This difference (credit) is then communicated to your town and will appear on the following year’s (2019-2020 in this example) property tax bill on the “State Payments” line. If the tax rates in your town change a lot, your property substantially changes in value, or your income situation changes, you will have to wait a year to get the property tax credit that accounts for those changes. For that reason, many people say there is a “lag” or “lookback” in the property tax credit system.


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