Video file: https://youtu.be/HlGWULkVH3A
To prepare for cross over, legislative committees are working to vote out all Senate and House bills, which must be reported out of the last committee of reference by Friday, March 12, 2021. Bills referred to the committees on Appropriations, Finance, and Ways and Means must be reported out by the last of those committees by Friday, March 19.
Last week, the House passed H.81, a bill addressing statewide school employee health benefits. On the floor, Representative Beck proposed an amendment, which was voted down by the House General Committee and the full House (see this video for House discussion and vote).
Next, Representative Laura Sibilia interrogated the presenter of the bill about how the bill would influence education spending and whether that cost would be equitable across the state. After the interrogation, Representative Sibilia made a motion that H.81 be referred to the House Education Committee. House Education Chair Webb responded by representing that a member of the House Ed Committee had been sitting in the House General Committee room throughout testimony and that the House Education Committee does not see H.81 as an education bill, so she would not be voting to send the bill to her committee. A roll call vote was held and the result was 50-96.
The House then moved on to voting on H.81 as amended by the House General Committee (version 2.1). A roll call vote was held and the result was 102-46. Third reading was ordered and the House passed H.81 on Wednesday, Feb. 17th. On Friday, Feb. 19th the bill was read a first time in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Education.
There has been recent discussion in the legislature regarding Districts That Pay Tuition To Approved Independent Schools. Legislative Counsel Jim DesMarais and VT Law School Professor Peter Teachout have provided testimony to the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee. Here is a link to a presentation by Jim DesMarais. Here is a link to Professor Teachout's most recent testimony. On Friday, Feb 19th, testimony was provided to the Senate Education Committee by James DesMarais and Damien Leonard (Legislative Counsel) as well as Bor Yang, Executive Director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission and can be viewed through this youtube link. The draft bill is 21-0752, version 3.2.
COVID-19 Response and Education Recovery discussions were prevalent last week. The Senate Education Committee heard joint testimony from VSBA, VPA, and VT-NEA (2/15/2021) regarding guiding principles of education recovery, which included the following:
● Equity - every student receives the resources and educational opportunities that they need to learn and thrive.
● The process of recovery is a long-term proposition with a duration of a minimum of three years.
● Existing policy and practice initiatives should contribute to the foundation for supporting the Recovery. (i.e Act 173, Act 77, Multi-tiered Systems of Support and Education Support Teams)
● Efforts to strengthen and expand existing policy and practice initiatives should reflect the dynamics revealed by the pandemic.
● State policy makers must allow maximum flexibility in local and regional use of monetary resources.
● Districts should engage with their school communities and keep them informed of their work related to the recovery process.
● Sufficient time, resources, and support must be provided for students who need to demonstrate a specific level of academic attainment in order to graduate or be promoted into the next grade level.
● A core emphasis should be on reestablishing the community of school and reconnecting every student to that community.
● School communities cannot be expected to navigate the State’s uncoordinated agencies and departments to acquire the essential services their students need. Utilization of existing and developing partnerships with local, regional and state agencies should contribute to the foundation for supporting the recovery. In regions lacking sufficient capacity among local and regional agencies, the State must guarantee targeted support in the form of financial and human resources.
Testimony from Deputy Secretary Heather Bouchey on Feb. 16th provided a high-level overview of the AOE’s concepts for Education Recovery, which was defined as “mitigat(ing) the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on the education and healthy development of our students and ensur(ing) that all students are doing well in three key domains: mental health & well being, re-engagement & truancy, and academic success and achievement." Further, the AOE’s education recovery plan states that “systems that strengthen several levers will result in successful implementation of Act 173 and recovery." Those levers are:
Education Support Teams
Local Comprehensive Assessment System
Needs-based Professional Development
A Memo from the AOE to the Senate Education Committee (2/17/21) provided three specific asks:
Uniform school calendar to “reduce complexity, enable better coordination of services students and yield a range of additional positive follow-on effects.”
Policy changes to simplify Vermont’s home study policy to make it more similar to that of other northern New England states and also changing the role of the agency from an oversight role to more of a support role.
Agreements Among SUs to Facilitate Flexible Student Attendance by “amending 16 V.S.A. § 267 to add the option for two or more SUs to exchange students who wish to attend a school on a non-resident basis. The language should include minimum requirements to be included in such agreements, in order to ensure nondiscrimination and compliance with other laws.”
The Senate Committee on Agriculture has prioritized 21-0378 – version 5.1, which is an act relating to universal school breakfast and lunch, otherwise known as the “Farm Fresh School Meals for All” bill. This bill would require all Vermont public schools to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge, and creates incentives for schools to purchase locally produced foods. The cost of meals that are not reimbursed through federal or state funds would be borne by school districts and transition grants would be available for school districts transitioning to universal meals. The bill removes the exemption process for schools that are unable to provide meals for students. The bill would also require school districts to collect household income information from all families in order to determine eligibility for federal and state programs. In addition to universal meals, this bill provides incentives to school districts to purchase locally produced foods for the school meals program and permits local school boards to decide what foods to include within the definition of “locally produced foods.”
The House Education Committee is continuing its work on a school facilities bill and is expected to approve a bill before the crossover deadline. Currently drafted as 21-0782 version 1.4, the emphasis of the bill under discussion is a comprehensive school facilities assessment that would be conducted by a third party and would provide information on the overall condition and needs of facilities for public school buildings across Vermont. The bill also envisions updated school facilities standards, a new formula for providing school construction aid, and requirements for districts to designate a position responsible for school facilities and maintain a five-year capital improvement and operations plan. The bill would further require the Secretary of Education to report on recommended funding sources for school construction projects considering the inventory, condition and needs of school facilities in Vermont. As currently drafted, the bill would fund two positions at the Agency of Education to support this work.