The second year of the biennium is underway! The General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday, January 4. The Senate had the authority to convene remotely, but the House needed to convene in person to vote on a resolution allowing remote work for the first two weeks of the session. Although the General Assembly will be working remotely until mid-January, all agreed that working together in person is preferred and leadership will work on a plan for the remainder of the session over the next two weeks.
Committees got right to work on Tuesday afternoon, hearing updates on a range of issues. There are no changes to the membership of the education committees this session. The Senate Education Committee members are: Senators Campion (Chair), Chittenden, Hooker, Lyons, Perchlik, and Terenzini. The House Education Committee members are Representatives Webb (Chair), Arrison, Austin, Brady, Brown, Conlon, Cupoli, Hooper, James, Toof, and Williams.
On Wednesday, January 5, Governor Scott delivered the State of the State Address in which he struck a positive tone and outlined his priorities for the session. Legislative committees have also started to outline their priorities for the session and their agendas will take shape over the next few weeks. The Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Principals’ Association, and Vermont Superintendents Association have been clear with members of both the House and Senate Education Committees - no new legislative initiatives this session. The continued spread of COVID-19 throughout our state is putting incredible stress on our education system. To ensure that our schools can focus on getting through the pandemic, we, along with other members of the education community, have asked the legislature to limit its focus to existing education related issues in the upcoming session. If interested in reading more, please click on the links to the testimony provided to the Senate Education Committee by the executive directors of the Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Principals’ Association, and Vermont Superintendents Association.
To date, two bills have been referred to Senate Education and four to House Education. To highlight a few:
S.162: An act relating to the collective bargaining rights of teachers
S.189: An act relating to the status of Holocaust education in public schools
H.468: An act relating to establishing a remote learning pilot program for Career & Technical Education (CTE) students
H.483: An act relating to potential new models of funding and governance structures to improve the quality, duration, and access to CTE in Vermont
Town Meeting Day 2022 and Temporary Open Meeting Law Procedures
Senate Government Operations was busy last week trying to address some immediate needs of municipalities, school boards, and public bodies as they prepare for Town Meeting, and also trying to safely continue their work in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases statewide. The first bill taken up by the committee was S.172: An act relating to authorizing alternative procedures for 2022 annual municipal meetings in response to COVID-19, which will allow the legislative bodies of municipalities to vote to: (1) use Australian ballot for town meeting in 2022, and (2) move Town Meeting to a safer date later in the year. These emergency provisions were in place in 2021 but expired. The bill also allows for a pre-town meeting informational meeting to be held by electronic means without designating a physical location. In that case, the municipality must use technology that permits the attendance of the public through electronic or other means, allows the public to access the hearing by telephone, records the meeting, and posts information about how the public may access the meeting electronically and include that information in the agenda. The bill moved quickly through both chambers and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk for signature.
Next up was S.222: An act relating to authorizing temporary Open Meeting Law procedures in response to COVID-19. S. 222 passed out of the Senate on Friday and has been messaged to the House. We expect this bill to move quickly through the remaining stages of the legislative process. If passed, S. 222 will authorize temporary Open Meeting Law procedures until January 15, 2023 that will permit public bodies, including school boards to: (1) hold electronic meetings without designating a physical location and without requiring staff to be physically present at a location; (2) extend the time limit for posting meeting minutes in the event of a staffing shortage; and (3) post any meeting agenda or notice of a special meeting in two designated electronic locations in lieu of public places. Municipal legislative bodies and school boards that meet remotely under these provisions must record their meetings, unless unusual circumstances make it impossible to do so. Minutes of the meeting must be posted within 10 calendar days from the date of the meeting; meeting agendas or notices of a special meeting may be posted in two designated electronic locations in lieu of the physical designated public places, or in a combination of a designated electronic location and a designated public place; notices and agendas must be posted in or near the municipal clerk’s office and must be provided to the newspapers or general circulation for the municipality.
Late Friday, Senate Government Operations passed DR 22-0544 out of committee. This committee bill, which may be taken up by the full Senate on Tuesday, January 11th, addresses some additional logistical concerns related to Town Meeting. DR 22-0544, if passed, will temporarily suspend the signature requirement for candidates wishing to place their names on the Town Meeting ballot, and also authorize the legislative body of a school district to vote to
not commingle the ballots of member municipalities for the 2022 annual district meeting.
The House Ways and Means Committee began its work on the Ed Fund, hearing from Craig Bolio, Commissioner of Department of Taxes, on his December 1 Letter, and the Joint Fiscal Office on the Ed Fund Outlook. In the coming weeks, the committee will need to make some decisions on what to do with the roughly $90 million in unreserved/unallocated funds from FY2022. The surplus could be returned to property taxpayers or reinvested in our schools, or some combination of the two. The Governor would like to see half of the surplus, $45 million, returned to property taxpayers, and the remaining $45 million reinvested into our students and used for one-time school capital construction costs that will directly enhance workforce development programs, such as enhancements to CTE centers.
Task Force on the Implementation of Pupil Weighting Factors Report
On December 17, 2021, the Task Force on the Implementation of Pupil Weighting Factors Report issued its final report to the General Assembly. Representatives Ruth Hardy and Emile Kornheiser presented the report to House Ways and Means, Senate Education and Senate Finance committees last week. At the end of the House Ways and Means committee meeting on Friday, Representative Kornheiser roughly laid out a work plan. Most of the work will start in the Senate, but some will begin in the House. Senate Education will address changes to small school and merger grants, early college, and ELL; Senate Finance will address how to measure poverty, and will work through the two options (pupil weighting v. cost equity payments) set out in the report; House Education will begin work on special education, EQS, and student mental health; and House Ways and Means will look at the Education Tax Advisory Committee and property taxes. On Monday, January 10th, VSBA provided a webinar to provide information on the recommendations and decision points in the final report. Panelists were: Representative Emilie Kornheiser (Co-Chair of the Task Force), Brad James (Agency of Education Finance Manager) and Dr. Tammy Kolbe (Co-Author of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report). We encourage all members who were unable to attend the webinar to listen to the recorded webinar and access the handouts, which can be found on the VSBA website homepage.
In the coming week, the House Education Committee will take up eFinance, Act 173 (relating to enhancing the effectiveness, availability, and equity of services provided to students who require additional support), the weighting study, facilities, and the state of our schools. The Senate Education Committee agenda includes a COVID-19 Update Related to Schools, pupil weighting.
You can find information about 2022-2023 Legislative Delegation by Supervisory Union/School District on VSBA’s public policy webpage.
PLEASE note that a full list of all bills introduced can be found here.