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Week 13: 4/4/2022-4/8/2022

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Link to Podcast

As we approach the final stretch of the session, the General Assembly is picking up its pace. There is a lot of pending legislation that, if passed, will significantly impact public education. We continue to closely monitor these bills so that we can keep you informed.

Education funding

S.287 - An act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education Committee took testimony on S.287. As we saw in the Senate, House Ways and Means is responsible for the money parts of the bill (ie: cost adjustments v. pupil weighting; transition period; suspension of the excess spending threshold), and the House Education Committee is responsible for the section on English Language Learners, and the evaluation and reporting section. When the House Education Committee completes their work, they will message their recommendations to the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration. This should all happen in the next couple of weeks, and then the House Ways and Means Committee will vote the bill out of committee.

Last week, House Ways and Means considered significant changes to the bill as passed by the Senate. Most of these changes are reflected in draft 1.4 of the bill, which the committee will take up this week. The committee plans to hear from members of the education committee on Tuesday before deciding whether to move forward with the changes. Some of the changes being considered include:

  • Transitioning to cost adjustments instead of pupil weight adjustments. Cost adjustments is another name for cost equity payments, which was an approach recommended by the Pupil Weighting Task Force and considered by the Senate Finance Committee earlier in the session. A cost adjustment approach would provide cost adjustment payments (grants) to school districts, which would be derived from the weight cost equivalents for each cost category (grade level, poverty, ELL, etc). The legislature would determine each year whether that number should move up or down. Jim DesMarais provided the committee with this chart explaining how to calculate the homestead property tax rate using pupil weights versus using cost adjustments. Julia Richter, Joint Fiscal Office, also modeled the changes in equalized homestead rates district by district using pupil weights as compared to cost adjustments. (Weighting and CFA changes District by District).

  • Adopting a faster transition construct than the five-year transition period in the Senate version of the bill. The committee considered three different transition constructs but has not yet decided how to proceed.

  • Eliminating the Education Fund Advisory Committee and shifting responsibilities delineated in the bill to other education entities (ie: AOE, JFO).

  • Making significant changes to the performance audit. Note that House Education is working on this section of the bill; please see Secretary French’s and State Auditor Hoffer’s testimony below for more details on the changes to the audit process that are under consideration by House Education.

To learn more about which sections from draft 1.3 were deleted in draft 1.4 of the bill, please link to this summary prepared by legislative counsel.

Last week, the House Education Committee took testimony on the parts of the bill that they are responsible for - English Language Learners, and Evaluation and Reporting. The committee heard from Secretary French and Ann Bordonaro from the Agency of Education; Doug Hoffer, State Auditor; Jeff Francis, Vermont Superintendents Association; and Jeff Fannon, VT-NEA. All agreed that we need to expand ELL capacity at the Agency of Education, and also make changes to the review and audit processes that are currently set out in the bill. The committee will continue their work on these two sections of the bill this week.

To read the full written testimony provided by some of these witnesses, follow the links below:

  • Secretary Dan French, AOE, testimony.

  • Ann Bordonaro, Federal and Education Support Programs, AOE, testimony

  • Doug Hoffer, State Auditor, testimony

Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System (Pensions)

The House Government Operations Committee began its work on S.286 - an act relating to amending various public pension and other postemployment benefits. The committee has heard from school business officials regarding the challenges that school business managers will face implementing the bill as currently drafted, and will take additional testimony next week. The committee chair urged members of the General Assembly to respond to concerns from constituents by asking what they need to make this happen. The Committee plans to pass the bill out next week, and it will then head to the House Appropriations Committee before going to the House floor.

House Education

S.100 - Universal Meals

Last week, the House Education Committee completed its work on S.100 and passed out S.100, draft 7.1. The committee ultimately decided not to create a permanent universal school meals program in statute, as proposed in earlier drafts of the bill. Instead, the committee decided to extend the universal meals program for one-year using $29 million from the education fund surplus. The hope is that this approach allows the universal meals program to continue for the next school year while also giving the General Assembly time to collect and review participation rates and other relevant data, and consider possible revenue sources for the program going forward. Under Section 8 of draft 7.1, the Agency of Education must submit a report to the House and Senate education and money committees that includes data on student participation rates in the universal meals program on an individual school level and, if possible, on a grade level; the relationship of federal rules to the State-funded program; and strategies for minimizing the use of State funds. Section 9 tasks the Joint Fiscal Office with a report examining possible revenue sources including expansion of the sales tax base, enactment of an excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages, and other sources of revenue not ordinarily used for General Fund purposes. The report must include preliminary revenue estimates and other policy considerations. Note that Section 7 tasks the Agency of Education with the responsibility of developing the universal income declaration form, which will be used to collect household size and income information that was previously collected using the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application. Similar language can also be found in Section 4 of S.287, the pupil weighting bill.

S.283 - Miscellaneous Education Bill

On Thursday and Friday, the House Education Committee took testimony on S.283, hearing from Emily Simmons, Agency of Education, and Oliver Olsen, State Board of Education who support the bill as passed by the Senate. The committee is also considering adding PCB testing language to S.283. The draft language proposes to amend Act 74, which was passed last year, to 1) push the PCB testing deadline back by two years to July 1, 2026); and 2) set out how testing will be conducted. The draft also proposes to amend Act 72 of 2021 to 1) push the facilities inventory deadline back one year to October 1, 2023; and 2) push back the radon testing deadline to June 30, 2026.

Senate Education

H.517 - An act relating to the Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program

The Senate Education Committee continued its work on H.517. The most recent version of the bill incorporates S.104, an act relating to the education of military families, and S.105, an act relating to purple star school programs. H.517 proposes to do three things - 1) changes the current statute and adds a pilot program, the Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program, which allows a resident or nonresident to receive tuition benefits if eligibility criteria are met; 2) permits an individual to receive more than one undergraduate certificate or other credential recognized by VSAC under the tuition benefit program, provided that the cost of all certificates and credentials received by the individual under the program does not exceed the full-time in-state tuition rate charged by NVU for completion of an undergraduate baccalaureate degree; and 3) expands the tuition program to include a graduate degree or a second undergraduate degree if the first was not funded by the tuition benefit program. S.104, now in H.517, proposes to allow a child whose parent is transferring to Vermont on military orders to be remotely enrolled in public schools. This bill also provides that the spouse and dependent child of any person who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and stationed in this State pursuant to military orders be considered a resident for in-state tuition purposes and does not lose that status if the member transfers out of State on military orders. S. 105, now on in H.517, proposes to permit a school district to qualify for the designation of a Purple Star Campus.

H.716- Miscellaneous education bill

The Senate Education Committee continued its work on H.716 last week, and is considering making some changes to the bill, as passed by the House. Those changes include: 1) permitting a delay in the implementation of State Board of Education rules 2362 and 2362.2.5 on a case by case basis; 2) appropriating funds for the Vermont NEA’s VTGrow ED program; and 3) tasking the AOE with issuing a report on educator preparedness to teach civics in the classroom. Chair Campion indicated that he would like to hear from the AOE this week regarding the topics of civics education and holocaust education. On Friday, the committee heard from the AOE on school district readiness to implement rules 2362 and 2362.2.5.

H.727 - An act relating to the exploration, formation, and organization of union school districts and unified union school districts

The Senate Education Committee dedicated a lot of committee time last week to H.727. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, legislative counsel walked the committee through the bill, and on Friday, the committee began taking testimony from stakeholders, including the Agency of Education, State Board of Education, Secretary of State’s Office, Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont Principals’ Association, Vermont NEA, and community members from Stowe who are leading their town’s withdrawal process. The committee will continue to take testimony this week.

Other Important Bills

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

On Wednesday, the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs completed its work on H.329 (draft 5.1). VSBIT, VSBA, VSA, and VPA (through Attorney Heather Lynn) successfully advocated for revisions to the bill that addressed concerns about the effects of H.329 in school peer harassment matters. Please see the full testimony offered by Attorney Heather Lynn responding to the final version of H.329. This bill did not make crossover so will need to be added to another bill in order to become law this session. We will continue to monitor this bill to see if it finds a home in other bills (likely S.226, Fair Housing, and H.320, employment bill).

H.572 - An act relating to the retirement allowance for interim educators

Last week, the Senate Government Operations Committee continued to take testimony on H.572, hearing from Jay Nichols, Vermont Principals' Association, Jeffrey Francis, Vermont Superintendents Association, Colin Robinson, Vermont National Education Association, who all strongly support the bill; and from Beth Pearce, Vermont State Treasurer, Office of the State Treasurer, and Tim Duggan, Director of Vermont Retirement Systems, Office of the State Treasurer who continue to raise concerns with the bill. The committee asked the parties to work together to come up with a compromise, which they will take up this week.


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