Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Open Meeting Law and Elections Procedures for Annual Meetings
S.222 (Act 78) implements several temporary provisions of the Open Meeting Law and was signed by the Governor last week. This Act authorizes a meeting of a public body to be held fully remotely without needing to designate a physical meeting location and without requiring staff to be physically present at a location.
If a school board chooses to meet remotely, it must use technology that permits public attendance through electronic or other means and allows public access by telephone. The board must also post information that enables the public to directly access and participate in the meeting and include it in the meeting’s agenda.
School boards that meet remotely under these provisions must record their meetings, unless unusual circumstances make it impossible to do so. In the event of a staffing shortage due to COVID-19, a school board may extend the time limit for the posting of minutes to not more than 10 days from the date of the meeting. School boards may post meeting agendas or notices of a special meeting in two designated electronic locations in lieu of the physical designated public places in the municipality, 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 of general circulation for the municipality.
The temporary provisions of Act 78 will expire on January 15, 2023.
S.223 (Act 79) was signed by the Governor on January 18, 2022. This Act temporarily suspends the signature requirement for candidates wishing to place their names on the Town Meeting ballot, and also authorizes the legislative body of a school district to vote to not commingle the ballots of member municipalities for the 2022 annual district meeting.
Governor’s FY 2023 Budget Address
On Tuesday, January 18, Governor Scott delivered his budget address that outlined a $7.7 billion budget proposal to “make the most of this historic moment.” The Governor was clear that he planned to prioritize workforce development with this budget. To that end, the Governor and his Administration are proposing a suite of initiatives to support enrollment, outcomes, infrastructure, and funding to elevate career technical education (CTE) centers and workforce development programming in our PK – 12 education system. These include:
Dedicating half (approximately $45 million) of the forecasted $90 million Education Fund surplus to tangible infrastructure in the PK – 12 education system that contributes to workforce development programs;
Funding and governance changes to CTE that are designed to enhance the delivery of education experiences to both high school students and CTE students while addressing the current competitive nature of funding CTE programs;
Through the FY22 Budget Adjustment, directing $1.5 million Education Fund allocation for CTE centers to offset pandemic-related costs that LEAs received federal funds to cover;
Dedicating $1.4 million of federal GEER II funds to a create a recruitment campaign for CTE enrollment that will target multiple populations including early exposure for middle school students, engagement with parents of high school students as well as high schoolers themselves to encourage enrollment, and encouraging adult learners to grow their skills in high need occupations. In addition to broad based promotion, there will be an emphasis on health care and the trades. The Agency of Education will contract this campaign out.
Dedicating the remaining $500,000 of GEER II funds to launch two to three electric transportation (aviation and vehicles) pilot grant programs in CTEs across the state;
Allowing students to attend a state-designated virtual high school as their sending school for academics, which will give students more time for work-based learning and CTE courses;
Supporting authorizing language in the FY22 budget adjustment for Vermont Technical College to continue their work to deploy their courses in regional CTE centers, making these programs more accessible; and
Integrating work-based learning coordinators and CTE directors into a pilot program that creates 6 regional workforce coordinators, who will help better connect students and job seekers with employers, training and all the important programs we have available today but that can be difficult to access.
The Administration’s plan represents a nearly $50 million investment in career technical education and workforce development activities delivered through our schools.
New Covid-19 Guidelines for Schools
On January 13, the Agency of Education updated its guidance to schools in order to better respond to the highly transmissible Omicron variant and free up scarce human and other resources. Most notably, the updated guidance does away with the PCR surveillance testing system, replaces the test to stay program with a test at home program, updates mask recommendations, and transitions from contact tracing to incident tracing. The following memoranda were sent to superintendents: Covid-19 Advisory Memorandum outlining Covid-19 prevention and mitigation measures for winter 2022, another Covid-19 Advisory Memorandum rescinding recommendations for contact tracing, and Test at Home protocols. On Wednesday, January 19, Commissioner Levine and Secretary French spoke to the House and Senate Education Committees about the rollout of the new Covid-19 guidelines for schools.
Act 173 delay
The House Education Committee has heard testimony from many stakeholders on the implementation timeline for Act 173. Act 173 was passed in 2018 in order to enhance the effectiveness, availability and equity of services provided to students who require additional support. The General Assembly delayed its implementation last year and is considering a delay again this year. Some stakeholders have argued for a delay; others against. The school budgeting process is well underway and budgets will soon be warned, and it is unlikely that there will be a resolution on the implementation timeline before then. Please see the links below for more information on the different positions taken by school districts and educators around the state:
Testimony in support of a delay
Testimony opposing a delay
Advisory Council on Literacy Annual Report
Act 28, which was passed last legislative session, established a statewide Advisory Council on Literacy to advise the Agency of Education, State Board of Education, and General Assembly on how to improve literacy outcomes for students in prekindergarten through grade 12 and how to sustain those outcomes. More specifically, the Council was tasked with the following:
Advise the Agency of Education on how to update Section 2903 of Title I6, implement the statewide literacy plan, and maintain the statewide literacy plan.
Advise the Agency of Education on supports to implement the literacy plan, and on staffing and resources needed at the Agency to support the statewide effort to improve literacy.
Develop a plan for collecting literacy-related data, that informs instructional practices, professional development, literacy proficiencies, and progress of literacy outcomes.
Recommend best practices of tier 1, 2 and 3 literacy instruction in the multitiered system of supports.
Review literacy assessment outcomes and provide ongoing advice on how to continuously improve those outcomes.
On January 18, Gwen Carmolli, chair of the Council on Literacy, testified before the Senate Education Committee on the work of the Advisory Council to date. The Council began its work with a review of literacy outcomes. The data review showed concerning trends of overall low achievement, achievement gaps, particularly for students experiencing poverty and with disabilities, and a trend of declining achievement scores. Gwen emphasized that although a great deal of work is underway, systems, schools, teachers, students, and families/caregivers are facing changing conditions and challenges due to the pandemic, which impacts progress. Currently, the Council is reviewing Section 2903 of Title I6, and developing advice on the implementation and maintenance of the statewide literacy plan. The Council has found consensus on several areas of strength, areas to change for alignment, and areas to consider adding to the statute. To better align the statute with current requirements and laws, the Council recommended two changes:
Change research-based to evidence-based. Federal documents currently reflect evidence-based as the language and requirement for educational criteria and decisions.
Change/update the statute number to reflect the current Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) statute. The current statute for MTSS is Section 2902 of Title 16.
The Council also agreed on two areas to consider changing or adding:
Add prekindergarten and kindergarten to section (b) to better align Section 2903 with Act 28. Prekindergarten and kindergarten are included in Act 28 and are foundational years for learning in future grades.
Include supplemental reading instruction for learners who may have a need in any grade, not just beyond grade 4. Students may need supplemental reading instruction in any grade, prekindergarten through grade 12, not just in the grades currently outlined.
For more information, please link to the Advisory Council of Literacy Annual Report for 2021.
Pupil Weighting: English Language Learners (ELL) Categorical Grant Program
One of the recommendations in the Task Force on the Implementation of Pupil Weighting Factors Report is to eliminate the weight for English Language Learning (ELL) students and create a targeted categorical aid program to fund ELL programs in Vermont to provide a base payment for each school district that supports at least one ELL student plus a per pupil payment for each ELL student. The Senate Education Committee is taking the lead on this recommendation and on Thursday, January 20, and Friday, January 21 began its work, hearing from various stakeholders who oppose the proposal to change the funding mechanism for English Language Learners (ELL) from pupil weighting to categorical aid.
On Thursday, Sue Ceglowski, Executive Director of the Vermont School Boards’ Association, testified to VSBA’s position. VSBA does not support this change for several reasons: (1) using a categorical grant program for ELL would require the General Assembly to calculate a new funding amount for the program each fiscal year, (2) choosing to segregate ELL funding from the rest of the formula, and possibly setting the amount at less than empirical analysis says it should be (due to the need for the General Assembly to recalculate a new funding amount each year), may result in discrimination against ELL students on the basis of race, national origin and language, (3) using a categorical grant program for ELL and setting the amount at $25,335 (translated from a weight of 2.49), would add $40 million to the top of the Ed Fund based on the number of ELL students in the state, thereby driving down the yield and increasing tax rates for all districts, and (4) using ELL weights is more efficient and provides more predictability to districts.
To read testimony from various witnesses, please see the links below:
The Senate Education Committee will continue to hear testimony regarding pupil weighting in the coming week.
Union School Districts, Chapter 11
The House Education Committee met this week to walk through a draft committee bill (dr. 22-0275, draft 1.3) that rewrites Chapter 11 of Title 16 governing the exploration, formation, and organization of union school districts and unified union school districts. The bill is intended to modernize the laws governing union school districts to address some of the issues that have come up post-Act 46 and other recent mergers. Many of the changes to the bill are technical in nature but some decision points are policy and will require more in depth conversation. A table of contents for the large bill can be found here.
Public Funds for Tuition at Religious Schools
The Senate Education Committee has begun its work to address the constitutional issues that surround the use of public tuition dollars for independent religious schools. S.219 is a bill relating to the use of public funds for tuition and the dual enrollment program, and proposes to: (1) ensure compliance with the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions by clarifying that a school district is authorized to pay public tuition to a qualified school or program, regardless of its religious status or affiliation, if the school or program has adequate safeguards to ensure that none of the tuition for which payment is requested has been or will be used to support religious instruction or worship or the propagation of religious views; (2) prohibit a school district from paying public tuition to a qualified school or program, regardless of religious status or affiliation, unless the school or program complies with federal and State antidiscrimination laws applicable to public schools; and (3) clarify under what circumstances a school district shall make dual enrollment available to students who attend a school with a religious mission. The Senate Education Committee will continue its work on the bill this week.
On Friday, January 21, the Senate Education Committee took up S.211: an act relating to creating the Vermont Teaching Careers Study Committee. This bill responds to the educator workforce challenges our schools have been experiencing, and proposes to create the Vermont Teaching Careers Study Committee to study and make recommendations on how to increase interest in teaching in Vermont elementary and secondary schools. Members of the education community offered testimony on the educator workforce crisis in Vermont. Sue Ceglowski, Executive Director of the Vermont School Boards Association, testified in support of the bill and offered some thoughts on what we could do to support teachers in the short and long term, including providing tuition forgiveness/scholarships for those entering the professions of teaching, social work and mental health and developing a shared understanding at the state level of how to retain, support, and increase the educator workforce. Mike McRaith, Assistant Executive Director of the Vermont Principals Association, told legislators that “recruiting and retaining school employees has always been a challenge, particularly in the most rural areas of Vermont. We believe this issue has gone from challenge to crisis.” Jeff Francis, Executive Director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, encouraged the committee to expand the scope of the study group to include all education related positions because the current shortages are not exclusive to teachers.
To read the full testimony from witnesses, please see the links below:
Other Bills: The following bills have also received some attention in committee this week.
S.169: Senate Finance voted favorably on S.169, an act relating to education property tax overpayments by a municipality or school district on Wednesday. The bill is proposed to authorize the Secretary of Education to refund a municipality or school district an overpayment of education property tax when the overpayment was caused by error or miscalculation, provided the Secretary of Education annually reports to the General Assembly all anticipated refunds to municipalities or school districts prior to issuance.
S.212: Senate Finance took up S.212, an act relating to income-based education funding on Friday. This bill proposes to simplify the Vermont education funding model and transition from a property-based tax to an income-based tax. This bill would create an education tax that is based on the income of all Vermont residents (both homeowners and renters) with a rate determined by locally voted budgets. This bill would eliminate the homestead education property tax and levy the nonhomestead education property tax on all property except residential dwellings and the two-acre parcel surrounding the dwellings. This bill would continue to provide the existing renter credit. An ongoing Education Fund Advisory Committee would be established under this bill to monitor the education funding system and to report and make recommendations annually to the General Assembly. Here is a good summary of the bill.
S.249: Senate Education took up S.249, an act relating to gradually increasing the mandatory age of school attendance on Thursday. This bill proposes to increase the mandatory age of school attendance to 18 years of age in half-year increments, beginning on July 1, 2023 and ending on July 1, 2026. This bill will be discussed in the Senate Education Committee in the coming week.