Federal Funds and Education Bills
Last week, the US Department of Education issued interim final requirements for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (“ARP ESSER”) Fund (known as ESSER III). These requirements are intended to promote accountability, transparency, and the effective use of funds by: Ensuring that each State educational agency (“SEA”) meaningfully engages in stakeholder consultation and takes public input into account in the development of its ARP ESSER plan; ensuring that each local educational agency (“LEA”) develops a plan for the use of its funds and engages in meaningful consultation and seeks public input as it develops the LEA ARP ESSER plan; and clarifying how an LEA must meet the statutory requirement to develop a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services. This resulted in uncertainty about several bills that currently include appropriations from ARP ESSER funds. We anticipate more clarity in the coming week.
Last week, the House Education Committee voted out their strike-all amendment to S.115 draft 6.1 unanimously and the bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee. As passed out of the House Education Committee and the House Appropriation Committee, this bill addresses libraries, cultural liaisons, a school wellness policy and an advisory council on wellness and comprehensive health, the provision of menstrual hygiene products, an extension and expansion of the Vermont Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group, and eFinance. The bill also aims to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education by requiring a joint report on restructuring. Please note, the Senate Education Committee has also been discussing diversifying and clarifying the duties of the State Board of Education and has scheduled S.115 in committee in the coming week.
The House Education and House Ways and Means Committees heard testimony on S.13, which addresses the implementation of the pupil weighting study. Among the witnesses were Sue Ceglowsi, VSBA, Jeff Francis, VSA, the Agency of Education, Professor Tammy Kolbe (co-author of the Pupil Weighting Implementation Report), Jay Nichols, VPA, Meagan Roy, and Erin Maguire of VCSEA, and Jeff Fannon, VTNEA, as well as superintendents and school board members. The House Education Committee has been deliberating statutory language that would establish the membership, charge (and scope thereof), powers, and duties of the Task Force. S.13 appears on the agenda for the House Education Committee in the coming week.
The Senate Education Committee took up H.106 (Community Schools), ending the week with information about trauma-informed practices from Colin Robinson, who provided testimony for Vermont NEA and Heather Bouchey, Deputy Secretary for the Agency of Education. The committee discussed the importance of community assessments of needs and assets and site-based leadership teams, recognizing that schools are at the center of Vermont’s communities and also recognizing the timing of this grant program, which “may inadvertently consume scarce personnel resources that would be better spent preparing for the fall semester’s recovery implementation.” This bill appears on the Senate Education Committee’s agenda in the coming week.
S.114, an act relating to improving prekindergarten through grade 12 literacy, passed in the House with a proposal of amendment. The House Amendment calls on the Agency of Education to provide professional development learning modules for teachers in the methods of teaching literacy and to assist supervisory unions in implementing evidence-based systems-wide literacy approaches that address learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would require the AOE to provide support to school districts in the use of federal funds to improve literacy outcomes and to recommend policies, procedures, and other methods to ensure that improvements in literacy outcomes are sustained. Further, the amendment includes the creation of a 16-member Literacy Advisory Council, which would advise the AOE, State Board of Education, and the General Assembly on how to improve and sustain literacy outcomes and calls on the Agency of Education to review teacher preparation programs as well as licensing and re-licensing criteria as this pertains to literacy. Of note, within S.114 is the extension of the Census-based Funding Advisory Group, through June, 2023. This bill appears on the Senate Education agenda in the coming week.
S.100 draft 6.2, now reflecting universal breakfast for students, was taken up in Senate Education and Senate Agriculture last week. Vermont lawmakers are now considering the interplay of the federal waiver which provides free meals to many students for the next school year and provides more time to consider the provision and cost of universal meals when the federal waiver expires. We anticipate a floor amendment in the coming week.