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Statewide Healthcare Benefits, Universal Breakfast, COVID-10 Relief, Literacy, Facilities, Pensions

Video: https://youtu.be/g-S3maogU7M

Podcast: https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/vtvsba/Blog11.mp3 H. 81, an act relating to statewide public school employee health benefits, was allowed to become law without the Governor’s signature on April 9th. As reported previously, H.81 removes the language from law requiring premium responsibility percentages and out of pocket for each plan tier to be the same for all participating employees and is absent of balancing language requested by the VSBA. The Governor explained his decision in a letter to the General Assembly, in which the Governor supported the clarifying language to definitions, the changes to the bargaining structure established in Act 11 and the requirement of cost estimates in the proposals from both parties as well as an explanation of the arbitrator’s decision. However, the Governor pointed out that the bill did not do enough to contain costs, thus creating greater burden on taxpayers. In addition, the Governor reminded the General Assembly that JFO warned that this flexibility in bargaining could increase the incentive to use more services because the user pays so little. More spending on these costs can lead to less money for student programming and so the Governor called on the General Assembly to consider the following before they adjourn:

  • Limit the employer's total health care benefit contributions to 80%;

  • Align effective date for all sections of the bill;

  • Review the fiscal impacts (provided by JFO) and provide additional modeling on future impacts to the public.

Although S.100 was ordered to lie, Senate Agriculture and Senate Education continued to work on the bill and may co-sponsor a floor amendment to the bill this week. Senate Education Committee heard from the AOE’s Child Nutrition Program Director, Rosie Krueger, who explained challenges with the most recent proposal that would create a fourth eligibility category using the Dr. Dynasaur program. She instead proposed a less-costly alternative, universal breakfast. JFO has estimated the cost of providing universal breakfast is between $6-10 million a year, depending on participation. On Friday, Senate Education reviewed another draft of the bill (S.100 draft 2.2) that addresses universal school breakfast and also would create a task force to advise the General Assembly on how to achieve the goal of providing universal school lunch to all public school students. Under this draft bill, reimbursement for the cost of providing universal breakfast, which is not reimbursed through federal funds or other State funds, would be drawn from the Education Fund.

H.315, the COVID-19 Relief Bill passed in both the House and the Senate on April 8th. The final version of the bill includes appropriations to the Agency of Education including a $15 million appropriation for the indoor air quality grant program in Section 15, as well as a $4 million appropriation for afterschool and summer programming to fulfill requirements specified in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and a $5.5 million appropriation for summer meals in Section 16. Click here to access a recorded webinar with the AOE’s COVID-19 Federal Emergency Funds Project Manager, who presented on COVID Federal Emergency Funds Presentation and Information.

The topic of facilities continues to be a discussion in the Senate Education Committee, where Secretary French presented a Memo on 4/7/2021. The committee asked legislative counsel to draft new language, which will be discussed this week.

The House Education Committee contemplated literacy last week and drafted a proposed amendment to S.114 (draft 3.1), which would provide an appropriation from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for grant programs in fiscal years 2022, 2023, and 2024. The Literacy Grant Program is intended to enable supervisory unions/supervisory districts, to adopt best practices in teaching literacy instruction to students in prekindergarten-grade 3 and is designed to support the implementation of Act 173 by providing students with the literacy skills necessary to ensure that core instruction meets most needs of most students and that students who struggle receive all instruction from highly skilled teachers. The amendment would create an Advisory Council on Literacy and proposes additional staffing at the Agency of Education.

The House Education Committee also took up the Senate’s Miscellaneous Education bill (S.115, draft 2.1), which addresses several topics. This strike-all amendment addresses Sec. 12 of Act 1 of 2019 by adding 3 members who represent ethnic groups and social groups to the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools. The amendment adds language to address the School Finance and Financial Data Management System which would extend the deadline for implementation of eFinance in order to provide time for further evaluation of the system. The amendment would also require the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education to jointly report, no later than Dec. 15, 2021, to the Committees on Education on how the roles and responsibilities should be restructured. The House Education Committee heard from the Vermont State School Nurses’ Association, who spoke in support of the provision of menstrual products in the bill and requested that the house consider language that includes a larger group of students and is age-focused rather than grade focused. The committee also heard from members of the Vermont School Counselors Association, who testified in support of a broader definition of school wellness program, which would include school counselors.

On Friday, the Committee on House Government Operations took testimony from VTNEA, Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC), and VSEA, which proposed more balanced representation on the task force, including a school board member. The committee discussed the powers and duties of the Pension Benefit and Funding Task Force in committee bill 21-0967, draft 1.1, which proposes to amend the membership and duties of the VPIC and to create the Pension Design and Funding Task Force. State Treasurer, Beth Pearce, also provided testimony regarding interplay with the Treasurer's Office and the Joint Fiscal Office in the future and reminded the committee that the longer this issue goes unaddressed, the larger the problem will be. Discussions regarding the membership and duties of the VPIC and the creation of the Pension Design and Funding Task Force will resume this week.

In the coming week, the House Education Committee will be taking up literacy (S.114), the miscellaneous education bill (S.115), school exclusionary discipline reform(S.16), pupil weighting (S.13), and the AOE’s COVID Recovery Plan while the Senate Education Committee will be taking up facilities (H.426), universal breakfast (S.100), and the State Board of Education/Agency of Education Rules and Responsibilities.

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