Returning from Town Meeting break, legislators worked last week, advancing several policy bills that will affect education.
H.106, draft 9.1, known as the “Community Schools Act,” passed out of committee favorably and was referred to House Appropriations. This bill, which would take effect upon passage, would provide a grant program for the implementation of community schools programs, providing students with equitable access to a high-quality education at a public school that includes integrated student supports, expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, active family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership and practices. An “eligible school” would be a public school or SU with a student body where 40% of students or more are eligible for free/reduced-price lunch or has been identified for comprehensive or equity support and intervention under ESEA or otherwise identified by the State as being in need of additional support. Provisions in the bill include:
annual demonstration grants of up to $110,000.00 a year for a period of three years to hire a community school coordinator to develop and implement a program or to augment work already being performed to develop and implement a community school program,
technical assistance from the AOE to eligible applicants to advise eligible applicants of other potential sources of funding, and evaluate the program, and
an appropriation of $1.53 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).
H.91 would suspend implementation of the statewide finance and financial data management system pending a review of its functionality by the Statewide Finance and Financial Data Management System Advisory Group, which would include school business managers, and further legislative action to reinstate its implementation. Last week, the House Education Committee heard testimony from several school district business officials as well as the IT Consultant for Joint Fiscal Office. Chair Webb suggested that time was running short to progress the bill, however some of the language may be inserted into another bill.
S.100 would provide Universal School Meals by requiring every public school to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge and would take effect on July 1, 2021. The bill also 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 the school districts. The AOE has testified to the complexity and interrelatedness of FRL data with many other areas of education at the state and federal level and recommended that the committee take testimony, at minimum, from the Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont Principals Association, and the Vermont School Boards Association. This bill has an appropriation from the General Fund for a staff person to administer the school food program. JFO provided a fiscal note with cost estimates to fulfill new obligations ($24-40,000,000 annually). Joint testimony from VSA, VSBA, and VPA was provided in the Senate Education Committee on Friday. The testimony stressed the importance of feeding children and that schools are already heavily engaged in providing universal meals. The method currently proposed in S.100 - having school districts budget those costs on a district by district basis - is not an efficient, transparent, or equitable way to pay for this program. Recommendations included a funding method via a state appropriation if universal meals are a state policy and program designed for efficiency to reduce requirements on school business offices data collection through the current administration of school meals programs, which is important to local districts and the State for a variety of reasons.
Both the Senate and House Education Committees have passed literacy bills out of committee. The Senate bill, S.114, proposes a grant program which includes $3,000,000 of federally appropriated funds, whereas the bill developed in the House, H.101, appropriates $2,000,000 and states that if this appropriation is insufficient to fully fund the grants, then the grant amounts that are awarded would be prorated. Both bills would support SUs in providing professional development in methods of teaching literacy, create the position of a statewide literacy coordinator at the AOE, and amend 16 V.S.A. § 2903 and create a Literacy Advisory Council to advise the AOE, the State Board, and the General Assembly on improving literacy instruction and outcomes in the state. The bills would also require a review of teacher preparation programs and licensing and re-licensing criteria. S.114 was taken up by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday and the committee discussed moving the language of the grant program into H.315 (COVID recovery bill). The committee asked legislative counsel for an amendment, which will be reviewed this week. H.101 was referred to House Appropriations, where it was taken up on Friday and will continue to be taken up this week.
Senate Education passed S.13 (5.1), a bill addressing the Weighting Study, out of committee. The bill creates a 6-member Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report, and this Task Force would collaborate with the Vermont Superintendents Association, the Vermont School Boards Association, the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators, the Vermont Principals’ Association, and the Vermont-National Education Association. The Task Force would receive administrative support from the AOE, technical support from JFO, and legal support from the Office of Legislative Counsel and would also hold at least one meeting to share information and receive input from the public concerning its work. The bill includes an appropriation (from the General Fund) for the Task Force to retain a consultant, who would have expertise and experience in providing advice on Vermont’s education funding and tax system and would be nationally recognized in the field of education funding and tax systems. A report to the General Assembly would include an action plan and proposed legislation to ensure that all public school students have equitable access to educational opportunities. The Senate Education Committee heard testimony from Sue Cglowski (VSBA), Jeff Francis (VSA), and Jay Nichols (VPA), conveying strong support for the findings of the Report and a thoughtful and expeditious implementation plan.
Regarding S.16, a bill that would create a School Discipline Advisory Council, which would be charged with making recommendations to end suspensions and expulsions for all but the most serious student behaviors and recommend changes to the types of data collected and the data collection processes regarding suspensions and expulsions. This bill carries a small appropriation from the General Fund for the Task Force and would take effect upon passage. The Senate Education Committee moved favorably on this bill.
S.24 would prohibit the retail sale of flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and e-liquids and eliminate the existing ban on and penalty for possession of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and tobacco paraphernalia by individuals under 21 years of age. The bill would also direct the Office of the Attorney General to report on the extent to which Vermont may legally restrict advertising and regulate labels for e-cigarettes and other vaping-related products. This bill was committed to the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs with the favorable report of the Committee on Health and Welfare last week.
The Senate Miscellaneous Education bill, S.115, includes language from S.26, S.27, and S.32, which addressed libraries, cultural liaisons, and school wellness and menstrual products. Specifically, this bill:
Creates a Working Group on the Status of Libraries in Vermont with the intent of strengthening and supporting libraries of all sizes and improving library services for the public;
Amends 16 V.S.A. § 136 by requiring the Agency of Education, in collaboration with the Advisory Council on Wellness and Comprehensive Health to update and distribute a model wellness program policy, using the expanded definition of “wellness program;”
Amends 16 V.S.A. § 4029, allowing education funds to be used by a school district and the town or city municipality or municipalities in which the school district operates for services of cultural liaison(s) to support students and families who have limited English proficiency (LEP); and
Amends 16 V.S.A. § 1432 by requiring the provision of menstrual products to students free of charge.
In a fiscal note provided by JFO, estimates that the cost of providing menstrual products would be roughly $50,000 to $60,000 annually and the cost of dispensers would range from $120,000 to $180,000. This would be a one-time cost in the 2022- 2023 school year and the bill does not require that schools provide dispensers. This bill carries no appropriation, thus school districts and approved independent schools would bear the cost and the bill would take effect upon passage (except that the requirement of menstrual product provision for the 2022–2023 school year and thereafter).
H.426, addressing school facilities, passed out of the House Education Committee last week and will be on the floor this week. H.426 as recommended by House Education can be found here; H.426 as amended by House Appropriations can be found here. JFO provided a Fiscal Note on H.426 on March 15th, which includes outlines the following:
Requires an update the state’s school construction facilities standards
Authorizes the State Board of Education to use not more than $100,000 of the appropriation to hire a consultant to provide technical assistance
$2.5M in assessment of every school building in state (ESSER I and ESSER II funds)
Secretary of Education to establish guidelines for the training and certification of each person responsibility for facilities management for a school district
Requires each school district to develop and maintain a 5-year capital operations and improvement plan and to update the plan annually
Secretary of Education to develop study on how to fund school construction long term
Creates one limited-service position funded through January 15, 2023 in the AOE
Provides that Section 6 (capital improvement plan) of the bill becomes effective July 1, 2023. The remainder of the bill becomes effective on passage.
This week, the Senate Education Committee will hear testimony from Joyce Manchester from Joint Fiscal Office and witnesses for the VT-NEA regarding H.81, the bill addressing statewide bargaining for public school employees' health care benefits.