Week 11: 3/22-3/25/22

Updated: Mar 29

Link to Podcast (Audio Recording)

The House and Senate floors saw a lot of activity last week as both chambers worked hard to pass out the remaining bills that made the crossover deadlines. Those bills will now pass over to the other chamber for consideration. The following education bills passed out of the chamber in which they were introduced (please note that at the time of writing, some links to the most recent versions of bills had not yet been updated on the legislative website, thus we are including the link is to the page where updates will be found):


H.703 - An act relating to promoting workforce development

H.737 - Yield bill

S.162 - An act relating to the collective bargaining rights of teachers

S.197 - An act relating to the Coordinated Mental Health Crisis Response Working Group

S.219 - An act relating to ensuring compliance with the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions in the use of public funds for tuition and in the dual enrollment program

https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2022/S.287 - An act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight


S.286 - An act relating to amending various public pension and other postemployment benefits (on the Senate floor for a second reading on Tuesday, March 29)


When not on the floor, legislators met in committee to take up bills already passed to them from the other chamber.


House Education

Last week, House Education turned its focus to PCB testing in schools, universal meals, and the Senate miscellaneous education bill, S.283.

PCBs

Last week, the House Education took testimony on PCB testing and remediation for schools. On Wednesday, the committee heard from Secretary French who acknowledged the importance of this work, but encouraged the committee to set a schedule that is realistic and takes into consideration the other policy work that has been enacted relative to the improvement of school facilities under Act 72 of 2021. He also encouraged the committee to consider Radon testing and remediation. Both PCBs and Radon affect indoor air quality and are therefore relevant to the mitigation work already underway in schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, the committee continued its work in this area and heard from Peter Walke and Patricia Coppolino, Department of Environmental Conservation, Jeff Francis, Vermont Superintendents Association, and Jay Nichols, Vermont Principals' Association. All who testified support extending PCB and Radon testing timeframes to 2026. Jeff Francis and Jay Nichols also emphasized the importance of thinking critically about how we will fund the remediation work and what we will do with the students while this work is being done. The committee will look at proposed language delaying the timeframe for PCB and Radon testing next week.


Universal meals: S.100

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee took up S.100, which was passed by the Senate last year. As you may recall, parts of S.100 were incorporated into Act 67 last legislative session. The committee is now picking the bill back up to consider making school meals (breakfast and lunch) free for all students. Since March 2020, Vermont schools have been receiving full federal funding for universal meals, but there will not be federal funds for a universal meals program after this school year. The end of the federal waiver program creates a decision point for states: return to the pre-pandemic model or create a new model and identify funding source(es) to continue the provision of universal school meal(s). The committee is mostly in agreement that it would be difficult to roll back a program that schools have been operating for the past two years with federal funding, but there is a shared concern over how to fund the program at the state level. The committee heard from Rosie Kreuger, Agency of Education and Julia Richter, Graham Campbell, and Patrick Titterton, Joint Fiscal Office, who testified on the cost of the program and potential revenue sources, including a tax on sugar sweetened beverages and candy, and a tax on cloud services. None of these sources alone will likely cover the full cost of the program. The committee will continue its work this week and will bring in additional witnesses to discuss a dedicated source of revenue to fund the program.


House General

H.329 - An act relating to amending the prohibitions against discrimination

On Wednesday, House General, Housing and Military Affairs took up H.329 again and considered a compromise reached between VSBIT, VSBA, VSA, and VPA (through Attorney Heather Lynn), and representatives of Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermont Legal Aid, the Vermont Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the Human Rights Commission. The parties agreed to remove the language changing the definition of harassment as applicable to public accommodations and to clarify the changes in the Vermont Public Accommodations Act to apply narrowly to housing only, not to other sites of public accommodations. VSBIT, VSBA, VSA, and VPA, through Attorney Heather Lynn, also offered proposed revisions for consideration. Legislative counsel will review the proposal and draft new language for the committee to review this Wednesday. Because the bill did not make crossover, the committee will need to find a bill that made crossover and is germaine in order for it to pass into law this session.


Senate


Senate Education

House miscellaneous education bill: H.716

Last week, the Senate Education Committee started its work on H.716. The committee heard from Chair Webb of the House Education Committee, Mary Lundeen and Jessica Spencer of Vermont Council of Special Educator Administrators (VCSEA), Randi Lowe, Superintendent, Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, and Meagan Roy, Director of Student Support Services, Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators, Chair, Census-Based Funding Advisory Group, who all testified in support of the bill. Although all support the State Board of Education rules 2362 and 2362.2.5, all are concerned that schools are not ready to implement these complex changes without comprehensive training that has not yet been made available to educators. Please link below to read their full testimony. The committee also heard from stakeholders who oppose the rules delay. The committee plans to invite someone from the Agency of Education to testify on school readiness to implement the new rules and the training materials that are currently available to educators.

Testimony of Mary Lundeen and Jessica Spencer of Vermont Council of Special Educator Administrators

Testimony of Randi Lowe, Superintendent of Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union

Testimony of Megan Roy Director of Student Support Services, VCSEA, Chair, Census-Based Funding Advisory Group

In addition to hearing from stakeholders for and against the rules delay, the committee took up an amendment to the bill that was proposed by Senator Chittenden. The amendment would amend Sec. 3. 32 V.S.A. § 5825a(b), which governs Vermont 529 plans, to include language allowing distributions from a Vermont 529 account without incurring a penalty when the distribution is used to make a qualified education loan repayment pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 529(c)(9).


H.727

On Thursday, the Senate Education began its work on H.727 - An act relating to the exploration, formation, and organization of union school districts and unified union school districts, hearing from Donna Russo-Savage from the Agency of Education and legislative counsel Beth St. James.

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