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Final Legislative Blog of the 2021 Session

Podcast: https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/vtvsba/Bog15.mp3

Video: https://youtu.be/FxKvgDyPzJ8


H.439, the State’s Budget Bill, has been referred to a Committee of Conference. Highlighted below are three important provisions in the Senate proposal of amendment to H.439:


First,

  • Section E.515 makes a first time appropriation from the Education Fund for the normal cost of the Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefits plan in the amount of $13,835,778.


Section E.515.1 - changes the annual contribution to the Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefits Fund beginning July 1, 2021 and annually thereafter and requires the annual contribution to be the sum of the following, each made by separate appropriation:


(1) The amount determined by the State Treasurer to be necessary to pay all retiree health and medical benefits, including prescription drug benefits, on a pay- go basis for the fiscal year; plus


(2) The amount determined in the most recent actuarial valuation to be the “normal cost” for the same fiscal year, appropriated from the Education Fund.


The normal cost of Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefits is not currently funded by the Education Fund. The normal contribution to the Vermont Teachers’ Retirement Fund is currently funded by the Education Fund.

Section E.515.3 of H.439 as proposed by the Senate requires the Treasurer to submit a report to the General Assembly on or before January 15, 2022 on moving normal costs and other charges to local school budgets. It requires the Treasurer to report on the following:

(1) The feasibility of moving the normal costs expenses from the Education Fund to local education agencies.

(2) Assessing federal grants for the normal costs of these benefits in a manner currently charged for teacher pensions whose funding is provided from federal grants or through federal reimbursement.

(3) Reimbursement for employer health care benefits through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.


Second,

  • Section B.1106 provides a $500,000 appropriation of FY22 one-time general funds to the Department of Health to Support polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) testing in schools; and

  • Section E.709.1 provides a $4.5 million appropriation to the environmental contingency fund, the Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the Department of Health and the Agency of Education to complete air indoor quality testing for PCBs in public schools and approved and recognized independent schools.

There is no appropriation for the abatement of PCBs.


Third,

  • Sec. C.112 of H.439 provides for Afterschool and Summer Programs in fiscal year 2021 and carried forward, through an appropriation of $4 million from federal funds for Elementary and Secondary Emergency School Relief (ESSER) provided in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The Agency of Education would use these funds to provide grants to afterschool and summer programs.

House Ways and Means spent a lot of time last week reviewing and discussing S.13, an act relating to the implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report. On Friday, the committee reviewed S.13 draft 2.1. This version of the bill creates an eight-member legislative task force: two members from each of the following committees: Senate Committee on Finance, Senate Committee on Education, House Committee on Ways and Means, and House Committee on Education. Members from the House Committees will be appointed by the Speaker of the House and may not all be from the same party; members from the Senate Committees will be appointed by the Committee on Committees and also may not all be from the same party. The task force will select co-chairs from among its members - one from the House and another from the Senate. The Agency of Education will not be represented on the task force and will instead provide technical assistance and other support; the Joint Fiscal Office will provide administrative support; and the Office of Legislative Counsel will provide legal advice and drafting support. The task force may retain a consultant to assist with modeling education finance scenarios and will collaborate with the Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators, Vermont Principals Association, Vermont Independent Schools Association, and Vermont National Education Association. The first meeting of the task force will be on June 1, 2021, which is earlier than in previous drafts of the bill, and the written report must be submitted to the General Assembly by December 15, 2021 to provide legislators with enough time to read and understand the report before the session begins. Other notable changes include an expansion of the number of public meetings from one to two or more, and a requirement that the task force allow time for public comment at each of its meetings. On Tuesday, committee members will review a new draft of the bill, which will incorporate additional changes discussed on Friday and on Tuesday.


S.16, act relating to the creation of the Task Force on School Exclusionary Discipline Reform, passed in the House in concurrence with a proposal of amendment, which was messaged to the Senate on May 7th. The House amendment has the “Task Force on Equitable and Inclusive School Environments” making recommendations to end suspensions and expulsions for all but the most serious student behavior and to compile data regarding school discipline in Vermont public and approved independent schools in order to inform strategic planning, guide statewide and local decision making and resource allocation, and measure the effectiveness of statewide and local policies and practices. The appointing authorities to the 16-member task force would seek racial diversity in membership and would include representation by:

  • the Secretary of Education;

  • the Commissioner of Mental Health;

  • the Vermont School Boards Association;

  • the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators;

  • the Vermont Principals’ Association;

  • the Vermont-National Education Association;

  • the Vermont Superintendents Association,

  • Legal Aid Disability Law Project;

  • Vermont Family Network;

  • Building Effective Strategies for Teaching Students Project at the University of Vermont

  • Vermont Restorative Collaborative;

  • one teacher (appointed by the VTNEA)

  • one member of a therapeutic school (appointed by the Vermont Independent Schools Association);

  • one school counselor (appointed by the Vermont School Counselor Association); and

  • two high school students (appointed by the Vermont Principals’ Association in consultation with UP for Learning).

The task force would define the most serious behaviors that should remain eligible for suspension or expulsion, make recommendations more uniform in-school services for any students who would otherwise face exclusionary discipline, and prohibit expulsion for children under the age of eight, unless the student poses an imminent threat of harm or danger to others in the school. The task force would also review and make recommendations on school professional development, identify best practices (by minimizing law enforcement contacts, being trauma informed, and maximizing relational and restorative actions). 16 VSA § 1162 would be amended to prohibit the suspension and expulsion of students under the age of eight unless the student presents an imminent threat of harm or danger to others in the school. The Secretary of Education would call the first meeting of the task force by August 1, 2021 and the task force would cease to exist on April 15, 2022. S.16 is scheduled for committee vote in the Senate Education this week.


The House passed S.115 in concurrence with a proposal of amendment on May 6th. The House proposal of amendment is on the Senate’s May 11th Notice Calendar and proposes to:

  • Adjust the appropriations for the Working Group on the Status of Libraries in Vermont and for the Vermont Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group;

  • Add public school librarians to the working group;

  • Add additional members to the wellness advisory council (school counselor and social worker);

  • Includes Vermont School Boards Association in the development of a model wellness program policy;

  • Add additional members to the VT Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Group (students) and provides additional time for this working group;

  • Provide $50K to the AOE, which can be used if the ethnic and social standards advisory group needs additional expertise;

  • Provide for menstrual products in schools on the basis of age versus grade (ages 8 and older);

  • Provide a 6 month pause of the implementation of shared school district financial data management system (eFinance Plus) while requiring frequent status reporting by AOE

  • Require proposals from the Agency of Education and from the State Board of Education on how the roles and responsibilities of each should be restructured.

This bill would take effect upon passage, except that the provision of menstrual products (Sec. 11) would take effect for school year 2022-2023 and thereafter. The Senate Education Committee has scheduled testimony in the coming week from representatives of the AOE, State Board of Education, and VASBO.


H. 426 passed out of the Senate on Thursday with an amendment from the Senate Education Committee and Senator Pearson, which, among other things, establishes the Renewable and Efficiency Heating Systems Grant Program. The Senate’s proposal of amendment also requires school districts to test for radon. On Friday, the House Education Committee heard testimony from David Englander, Senior Policy and Legal Advisor for the VT Department of Health, who stated that radon testing should be done by certified specialists and that testing and retesting can be a lengthy process. The bill does not include an appropriation to cover the cost of radon testing or remediation. Whether ESSER funds could be used to address radon remains a question. The House Education Committee has scheduled a number of witnesses to address H.426 in the coming week.