Legislative Priorities Taking Shape
YouTube link: https://youtu.be/gpM5oWZpoSM
Last week, legislators heard testimony regarding literacy instruction and outcomes as outlined in a Senate Education committee bill 21-0807, version 1.1. This bill proposes to require SU boards to adopt a literacy policy and to conduct an annual evaluation of superintendent job performance, including whether goals for improving student literacy outcomes have been met. This bill also proposes to require the AOE to review teacher preparation programs and report to the General Assembly on the extent to which these programs prepare teacher candidates to use science-based literacy materials and programs. Testimony was provided by VSA aiming to both (1) speak directly to the proposed legislation and (2) providing further considerations on the subject of literacy policy and reform. Within the context of Act 173 and COVID-19, AOE Secretary Dan French also provided a Proposal to Address Literacy Outcomes, which recommends an amendment to 16 V.S.A. § 261a (Duties of Supervisory Union Boards), requiring each supervisory union board to have a literacy policy that requires:
The implementation of a benchmark literacy assessment for all students in grades PreK-3 with scores that can be reported as Lexile scores to the Agency of Education
A process for identifying struggling readers, including students with Dyslexia, and a description of the intervention processes dedicated to address the needs of these students; and
The board to formally review and publish an annual monitoring report on student literacy outcomes.
The Agency’s proposal for legislation includes the requirement of each supervisory union board to conduct an annual evaluation of superintendent job performance including goals for improving student literacy outcomes and recommends that the General Assembly direct the Secretary to review teacher preparation programs and report on the extent to which these programs prepare teacher candidates to use science-based literacy materials and programs.
VSBA is scheduled to testify tomorrow on the Senate Education Committee’s draft bill addressing literacy.
H.101 is a House bill addressing literacy. Testimony was provided by several witnesses on Friday, February 5th and this topic appears on the House Education Committee agenda again this week.
The General Assembly is considering many bills addressing antiracism, equity, inclusion and bias. Bills with education considerations:
School Discipline Advisory Council: S.16 proposes to create the School Discipline Advisory Council to collect and analyze data regarding school discipline in VT public and approved independent schools in order to inform planning, decisions, resource allocations, and measure effectiveness of policies and practices.
Cultural Liaisons: S.27 would allow school districts and town/city to jointly fund the services of cultural liaisons to support students and families who have limited English proficiency.
Pupil weighting: H.54 proposes to implement recommendations in the Pupil Weighting Factors Report. Seeks to adjust the existing weighting factors and add new weighting factors that are used to calculate equalized pupils. S.13 proposes to require the AOE to develop a plan to implement the equalized pupil weighting changes outlined in the Pupil Weighting Factors Report dated 12/24/19.
Community Schools: H.106 proposes to facilitate and provide funding for the implementation of community schools that provide all students with equitable access to a high-quality education.
Racial Equity in State Government: H.196 proposes to add two new positions, one policy and research analyst and one outreach and education coordinator, to 3 V.S.A. chapter 68 to support the work of the Executive Director of Racial Equity to mitigate systemic racism in all branches of State government and to appropriate funding for both positions.
Equitable Learning Environments: H.163 proposes to enhance equitable learning environments for all Vermont public school students and to ensure a safe and affirming workplace environment for all school staff, especially those students and school staff who have been historically underrepresented and underserved due to factors such as their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental ability.
Deliberations regarding statewide school employee health benefits in the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs continued last week and will continue in the coming week. H.81 version 1.1 was drafted on Friday, February 5th.
A Memo from Susanne Young, Secretary, Agency of Administration, Daniel French, Secretary, Agency of Education, Craig Bolio, Commissioner, Department of Taxes, and Mike Pieciak, Commissioner, Department of Financial Regulation provides the Administration’s perspective surrounding the evolution of the statewide bargaining construct for school employees’ health care plans and the financial impacts of H.81. Specifically, the Memo states, that “establishing sustainability of the plan’s cost for employees and taxpayers alike, and creating uniformity in cost-sharing arrangements to make the benefit easier to administer” were foundational principles of the statewide bargaining construct and should still apply.
The Memo explains that the there was a lack of transparency on how the arbitrator’s decision was made in the first round of statewide bargaining; that it was made by a single, unaccountable individual; and that it has had a major impact on school district budgets (estimated to add $25 to $30 million in costs to the Education Fund).
The Administration expressed concerns about the fiscal impacts of the changes proposed by H.81. By striking the provision for uniform cost-sharing arrangements for premiums and out-of-pocket costs, this bill may result in the Commission negotiating a sliding health care contribution. Due to the significant financial implications for Vermont taxpayers, the Administration recommended that if the bill is voted out of the Committee, the House Committee on Education and the House Committee on Ways and Means should further consider the bill. VSBA supports thorough consideration of H.81 by the House Committees on Education and Ways & Means in order to fully consider the significant financial implications of the bill.
A financial Memo from Joyce Manchester of the Joint Fiscal Office was issued to the committee on February 2nd, though the calculations were based on 2019 data and do not cover all of the changes proposed in H.81.
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs has received written testimony from school officials around the state that cost containment of school employee health benefits is needed in order to avoid further jeopardizing educational opportunities for students and maintenance of facilities. Based on that testimony, VSBA has requested that the Committee add language to H.81, including requiring the parties to submit full cost estimates of their proposals with a breakdown of costs borne by employers and costs borne by employees on a statewide basis, adding specific criteria the arbitrator must consider in making a decision, requiring the balancing of appropriate access to health care benefits and reasonable cost containment, and requiring the arbitrator to issue a written decision with a full explication of the basis for the decision.
VSBA sends a hugeTHANK YOU to those of you from the many school systems who took action and submitted written testimony describing the difficulty of constructing a budget with higher, state-imposed health care costs without simultaneously cutting education programming, deferring facilities maintenance or raising local property tax rates. Testimonials can be found here. It is not too late to submit a letter as written testimony to the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs (see blog post dated 2/1/2021 for more information).
The Act 175 Vermont Education Property Tax Transition Study (2020) called for a report on the feasibility of transitioning the billing and collection of education property taxes from municipalities to the Department of Taxes. This report was delivered to the legislature on February 1st and provides a detailed analysis of the considerations of transitioning to a state billing system, offers pros and cons to a variety of approaches, and suggests incremental steps that could support the transition of education property tax collection to the Department of Taxes. All of this would need to be considered in conjunction with the interplay of the Pupil Weighting Report.
Legislative committees continue to discuss the Governor’s Childcare Plan within the context of the “Cradle to Career” concept, being referred to as the Restructure of the Child Development Division (CDD), which would reassign several responsibilities from (CDD) to different agencies, including the AOE. The complexity of this shift is significant and would take quite some time to accomplish.
Thank you for staying connected and stay tuned next week for more updates from the State House.