Week 15: 4/19/22-4/22/22

Updated: Apr 26

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We are nearing the end of the legislative session. This may be the last blog because any information we provide will be outdated soon after it is written. The final legislative report will be issued after the session concludes. Keep an eye out for legislative alerts.


PCBs:

Last year, the General Assembly enacted a PCB testing and remediation requirement for schools, with money for testing but no funds for remediation. While there has been some discussion during this legislative session of allocating state funds for PCB remediation in schools, the General Assembly has made no hard commitment. The session is within two or three short weeks of adjournment.


Within weeks, PCB sampling will begin in schools statewide, and while we can hope that PCB levels will not require costly mitigation in any school, that would be unrealistic. In fact, the Department of Environmental Conservation is estimating that mitigation costs could run in excess of $41 million. That is $41 million that has neither been budgeted by local school districts nor appropriated from state funding.


Over the weekend, you should have received an Urgent Action Alert from VSBA (VSA and VPA issued alerts as well), asking you to contact House and Senate members to request the allocation of state funds for PCB remediation. If you have not already done so, please contact your legislators on this important topic. Click here to see a draft schedule for PCB testing provided by the AOE.


S.283, the Senate Miscellaneous Education bill, includes three sections that address PCBs as outlined in draft 4.1:

  • Section 8 would amend Act 74, which was passed last year, to push the PCB testing deadline back by two years to July 1, 2026 and require that information be provided to the Committees on Education and Natural Resources by January, 2023;

  • Sections 9 and 10 would amend Act 72 of 2021 to push back the PCB inventory and assessment to October 1, 2023, and push back the radon testing deadline to June 30, 2026.


S.283 was amended by the House Education Committee to add the following:.

  1. Section 11 would address students with IEPs in interstate school districts, which would take effect upon passage, and

  2. Section 14 would amend 16 V.S.A. § 829, regarding Universal Prekindergarten due to anticipated changes in the STARs (QRIS) system and the related Universal Prekindergarten Rules. This section would go into effect on July 1, 2023.

Public Tuition to Religious Schools

On Friday, the House Education Committee further discussed draft bill language (draft 1.2) which would apply the Public Accommodations Act to Approved Independent Schools. An overview of "Public Tuition to Religious Schools" was presented by legislative counsel. The committee considered language to amend 16 V.S.A. § 166 by compelling the State Board of Education’s (SBE) rules to require that an approved independent school comply with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act, 9 V.S.A. chapter 139, to the same extent that the act applies to public schools. Further, the SBE would be compelled to establish and maintain a process to receive, investigate, and resolve allegations of noncompliance with these requirements through due process for a person making the allegation and the approved independent school against which the allegation is made. The committee is considering this language within the context of S.283 and will continue to discuss the bill in the coming week.


School Meals

As noted last week, S.100 was amended by both House Education and House Ways and Means. This bill was on the House Notice Calendar on Friday and appears on the House Action Calendar for Tuesday, April 26. See the House Notice Calendar for details about these amendments.


There is also a $36 million Ed Fund Reserve for school meals in H.737, which is the Yield Bill. Senate Finance received the following documents related to school meals:

S.100 appears on the Senate Education agenda on April 26.


S.162, relating to the collective bargaining rights of teachers, passed out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday and was on the floor on Friday. This bill does two things:

  1. Makes statutory provisions for just cause related to the nonrenewal, suspension, and dismissal of teachers under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. The decision to nonrenew, suspend without pay, or dismiss a teacher shall be made by the school board.

  2. Adds new law that protects teachers, administrators, or other employees of a school district or supervisory union when they testify to the General Assembly, a committee of the General Assembly, or the State Board of Education from retaliation from their employer, except that a witness may be disciplined by the individual’s employer for divulging confidential information.


School Facilities

On Thursday, April 22nd, the Senate Education Committee received an update from Secretary French on the recently released Vermont School Facilities Inventory and Assessment Report commissioned by the Agency of Education as required by Act 72 of 2021. The inventory is just one preliminary step in the State’s efforts to get a handle on the current condition of school facilities and will be followed by a more comprehensive assessment and a public facing database to provide interested parties with useful information on school conditions.


The Report is recommended reading for Vermont’s public school officials. Secretary French presented this slide deck which indicates important points laid out in the report. We refer you to the slides for a succinct but highly informative review. In general terms, this information indicates an aging physical infrastructure for Vermont public education with many buildings and building systems approaching the end of their useful life and the need for action by the General Assembly to come to grips with this very significant issue.


S.287 draft 2.2, relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight, passed out of House Ways and Means 11-0. Ways & Means decided to implement the recalibrated weights rather than recommending cost adjustments. Additionally, the Committee retained the English Learner mini-grants for districts with English Learner counts of 25 or less. The House Appropriations Committee recommended this amendment to the bill.

Major provisions of S.287 as recommended by Ways and Means include:

  1. Eliminates the equalization ratio and instead uses the long-term weighted ADM count as the pupil count for education spending per pupil. Mathematically, every district will have the same tax rate it would have using equalized pupils. The yield will drop in the weighting model (using FY20 data) from 11,107 to 6,894.

  2. Moves to the new weights in FY2025 without a transition period, although there is a soft landing. Districts that are advantaged by the new weights get the advantage immediately in year 1. For districts that are disadvantaged, if the increase in rates from FY24 to FY25 is greater than 5%, they are protected by a maximum allowable increase of 5%. That can last up to 5 years, but once they are at the actual rate, the 5% provision is no longer available. Additionally, there is a tax rate review process for per pupil spending increases of more than 10% from year to year.

  3. Requires the Legislature to recalibrate the weights not less than every five years, based on calculations by the Agency of Education and Joint Fiscal Office.

  4. Suspends the Excess Spending Threshold and the school budget ballot language requirement in 16 VSA Section 563(11)(D) for fiscal years 2024 through 2029.

  5. Requires each Vermont school district to meet school district quality standards adopted by rule of the Agency of Education regarding the business, facilities management, and governance practices of school districts. These standards must include a process for school district quality reviews to be conducted by the Agency of Education.

  6. Requires the Joint Fiscal Office to examine and provide options to the House Committees on Education and on Ways and Means and the Senate Committees on Education and on Finance for structuring the following: (1) methods for cost containment that create equity in school districts’ ability to spend sufficiently on education to meet student needs; (2) in collaboration with the Department of Taxes and the Agency of 10 Education, the mechanics for setting the yields in a manner that creates a constitutionally adequate education spending amount for school districts at a level that is determined by education funding experts to be sufficient to meet student needs; and (3) funding similar school districts in an equitable manner regardless of their per pupil education spending decisions.

The fiscal impacts of S.287 as recommended by the House Ways and Means Committee are covered in this Fiscal Note. The bill is on the House Notice Calendar for April 26.


H.727, relating to the exploration, formation, and organization of union school districts and unified union school districts was discussed in Senate Education where concerns were discussed with Oliver Olsen from the State Board of Education. The committee reviewed drafted language from legislative counsel (guardrail proposal 1.1), as well as draft 1.1 of H.727 on Thursday and Friday and concluded by requesting additional amendments from legislative counsel over the weekend.


H.727 now includes language stating that before a newly elected board member enters upon the duties of office, the union district shall ensure that the district’s blanket bond and/or the district’s crime insurance policy covers the new member. Further, the district will ensure that its blanket bond and/or its crime insurance policy covers a newly elected or appointed treasurer before the treasurer enters upon the duties of the office. This language appears four times in H.727 because of its application in various statutes. Similar language appears in H.716 (see below).


H.727 appears on the Senate Education agenda for April 26.


H.716, the House miscellaneous education bill, passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Friday. As recommended by the Senate Education Committee, this strike-all amendment now includes language:

  1. To amend 16 V.S.A. § 2961 to set the amount of the census grant as either the average amount an SU received for fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020, or the average amount it received for fiscal years 2019, 2020, and 2021, whichever amount is greater, from the State for special education (for fiscal year 2023);

  2. To require the AOE to report on and make recommendations to ensure that Holocaust education is included in the educational programs provided to students in public schools;

  3. To amend 16 V.S.A. § 492 to state that in lieu of taking a bond from a collector or treasurer, or both, a school district may choose to provide suitable crime insurance covering the collector or treasurer, or both. If a school district has not provided suitable crime insurance in lieu of a bond and a collector or treasurer for 10 days neglects to give a bond as required, that office will be vacant; and

  4. To support the development and retention of qualified and effective Vermont educators.

The Senate Education Committee discussed moving the language regarding Special Education Rule delay into H.101, which appears on the Senate Education agenda for April 26.


Senate Economic Development heard from Chair Campion of the Senate Education Committee regarding a few highlights of a workforce development bill, H.703, draft 3.1. Senator Campion reviewed sections of the amendment which address mental health/behavioral health, peer review support grant program under the AOE, a CTE construction and rehabilitation experiential learning program, and a funding and governance structure for CTE in VT. The Senate Economic Development Committee received testimony from the Agency of Education and will return to this bill in the coming week.

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