Please note: Audio recording will be made available on Wednesday this week.
H.315 (COVID Relief bill), previously contained language that made specific appropriations from the ESSER set-aside funds allocation to the Agency of Education. Given the yet unknown needs of students and schools and due to the goal of federal relief funds extending over a period of three years, the House Education Committee has considered the removal of several of these appropriations. Due to unresolved issues within H.315 (unrelated to education) further floor action of this bill was postponed until Tuesday, April 6th while the House Appropriations Committee refined a strike-all amendment which would include $15 million appropriation to address indoor air quality and $4 million for afterschool and summer programs, as well as $5.5 million for summer meals.
The House Education Committee continued its conversation on literacy last week, working to sort out policy and funding provisions in S.114, H.101, and H.315. The Committee is now working to reconcile the differences between H.101 (the literacy bill passed out of the House) and S.114 (the literacy bill passed out of the Senate), using S.114 as the vehicle to merge the proposals presented in the two bills. Currently, S.114 allocates State Education Agency ESSER III Funds to a literacy grant program and a program manager to oversee that process, creates a Literacy Council, and reviews licensing and re-licensing standards as they pertain to literacy instruction.
S.75 proposes to require that students in public schools be screened for markers of dyslexia. The Senate Education Committee took testimony from Mary Lundeen (VCSEA) and Jackie Tolman (EWSD), both of whom expressed the need to build capacity and teacher expertise in the foundational skills of literacy as part of a comprehensive literacy program.
S.100, the “Meals for All'' bill, was taken up in both Senate Agriculture and Senate Education. Committee members discussed draft 2.1 and considered the associated costs of various models, including universal breakfast only or expansion of access to universal meals through the Dr. Dynasaur program. The committee also discussed funding “off the top” from the Education Fund rather than the former language directing costs that are not reimbursed through state or federal programs, to be borne to school districts. A notice was issued for the bill to be taken up on the floor, however, due to the uncertainty of the funding source and mechanics, the bill was ordered to lie. The Senate Education Committee is taking up S.100 again on April 6 with testimony from Rosie Krueger, State Director of Child Nutrition Programs for the Agency of Education.
H.426, addressing school facilities continues to be under active discussion in the Senate Education Committee. On March 25th, Jeff Francis delivered testimony on behalf of VSA, VPA, and VSBA stating that H.426 should be approved by this Committee and the General Assembly and enacted into law. Mark Perreault of JFO provided a fiscal note.
S.115, the Senate Miscellaneous Education bill, was taken up in the House Education Committee, where testimony was provided by Jay Nichols on behalf of VPA, VSA, and VSBA. The associations support Section 8, which addresses collaboration between school districts and municipalities regarding cultural liaisons, Section 9, which forms an Advisory Council on Wellness and Comprehensive Health to support the Secretary in providing curricular support to school districts and Section 11, which provides for menstrual products in schools. Section 10 addresses a school wellness policy. While all three associations support this section of the bill, they requested that the Vermont School Boards Association be consulted in the development of any policy.
S.16, proposes to create the School Discipline Advisory Council to collect and analyze 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. This bill was taken up in the House Education Committee, where VCSEA’s interim Executive Director, Jo-Anne Unruh, testified in support of the overall purpose of this bill and supporting the Task Force as an important step in deepening our statewide understanding of how schools can support, teach and provide students with tools for appropriate and healthy interaction. Use of accurate disciplinary data provides a foundation for action to address school climate, supporting students in productive social interaction and for supporting and guiding students who are behaviorally challenged in school and the data can provide important information as to how districts and schools might strengthen their role in employing preventative frameworks and strategies. Jay Nichols also provided testimony on behalf of VPA, VSA, and VSBA, stating a shared commitment to creating more equitable and antiracist schools across Vermont by recognizing and supporting the need to examine exclusionary discipline practices as a whole and in particular, how these practices disproportionately affect traditionally underserved students. Requests were made to include representation from the Vermont School Boards Association in the Advisory Council and, given the complexity and scope of the work, to establish a designated team or person at the Agency of Education that is able to provide technical assistance, research, and report best practices, and lead the complement of statewide initiatives that have been and will continue to be introduced.
On Friday, discussions on the proposal to address pensions of State employees and school employees ceased with the proposal to commission a Task Force to address the issue. The House Government Operations Committee will be considering pensions again this week.
This week, we anticipate testimony in the Senate Education Committee regarding the roles and responsibilities of the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education, which was discussed last Spring.
Also in the coming week, VSBA will provide a recorded webinar by Jill Briggs Campbell, VT AOE COVID 19 Federal Emergency Funds Project Manager, who will provide an overview of the federal relief funds. On Thursday, April 8th from 12-1:00pm, all school board members and superintendents are invited to join Congressman Peter Welch for a Zoom call to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on local school districts, efforts in Congress to provide COVID relief, and what challenges remain for school districts across Vermont. School board members and superintendents - please check your email for a link to register in advance for this meeting.