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Week 5: Jan 31-Feb 4, 2022

House Education Committee

Committee Bill 22-0275 - 16 V.S.A Chapter 11 Rewrite

The House Education Committee continued its work on the Title 16, Chapter 11 rewrite.

The committee is currently looking at two separate documents - one from the Agency of Education that makes technical amendments to Chapter 11 and another from the State Board of Education that lays out a process for withdrawal from or dissolution of a unified union school district; at some point they may put the withdrawal language into the larger bill.

On Tuesday, the committee took testimony on the withdrawal language proposed by the State Board of Education, and heard from Sue Ceglowski, Executive Director of the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA), Jeff Francis, Executive Director of the Vermont Superintendents Association (VSA), and members of communities who are currently in the midst of a withdrawal from their unified union districts. Sue, on behalf of VSBA, raised several concerns about the process, as currently proposed, and offered recommendations to address some of those concerns.

First, as drafted, the bill would require the petition to be signed by at least five percent of the voters residing in the petitioning town and five percent of the voters residing in each of the other towns within the union district. VSBA testified that the threshold of five percent of voters is too low to begin a significant and time consuming process, and that the committee should consider a higher threshold to initiate the withdrawal process such as requiring a higher percentage of voters to sign the petition and/or requiring a preliminary vote in all of the member towns on whether to initiate a withdrawal study.

Second, the bill would allow the withdrawal study committee to request technical and analytical services from the union district staff, supervisory union staff, or both. VSBA is concerned about the amount of technical and analytical work that is needed to analyze the potential effects of withdrawal, and that this work will disrupt the functioning of the central office. In addition, central office staff may not support withdrawal, thereby putting them in the difficult position of providing technical and analytical support for a withdrawal they do not support. This could lead to loss of talented leadership for the district during a workforce shortage. VSBA recommends providing technical support through a different mechanism.

Third, the bill would allow the withdrawal study committee to use up to $25,000 of union district funds to hire outside legal counsel and other assistance and to seek advice from the legal counsel for the union district and the supervisory union. VSBA is concerned that these costs could disproportionately affect towns that are satisfied with the status of the unified union district, and that providing the withdrawal study committee with access to the legal counsel for the union district and the supervisory union could lead to a conflict of interest for legal counsel. VSBA recommends another source of funding, or a requirement that the entire electorate approve money to be used for that purpose.

Finally, Sue offered some general concerns with the bill, as drafted: 1) there are no boundaries regarding how often the withdrawal process can occur; 2) it is possible that multiple petitions from different interest groups may need to be managed at the same time; 3) there is concern that this process will have a negative impact on retention of superintendents, business managers and other central office staff; and 4) there is concern that this process may lead to an increase in the number of non-operating districts. Jeff Francis, Vermont Superintendents Association, raised many of the same concerns and encouraged the committee to consider the incredible stress that superintendents are currently working under as they continue their work on this bill. To read the full testimony, please link below:

On Wednesday, the committee began its work on the potential technical amendments to 16 V.S.A. Chapter 11. Although most of the changes are technical, there are a few policy decisions that the committee must make. To guide their work, the committee is using the following document that details all of the policy considerations - Potential Policy Considerations for General Assembly Relating to Potential Technical Amendment of 16 V.S.A. Chapter 11. The committee will continue its work on this bill, with the goal of voting it out before crossover.

Career and Technical Education

On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the House Education Committee took testimony on H.468 and H.483, two bills aimed at supporting career and technical education in Vermont. On Tuesday, the House Education Committee heard testimony from the Agency of Education regarding these two bills. The AOE provided the committee with information on current educational programming, enrollment data, and a status update for the activities the Agency outlined in its Act 189 report in June, 2021, titled “Career Technical Education Funding Pilot Projects and Middle School Collaboration.” On Wednesday, the committee heard from Jody Emerson, Director of the Central Vermont Career Center, John Tague, Superintendent, Franklin West Supervisory Union, and Brian Emerson, Director, River Bend Career & Technical Center. All spoke in support of the two bills but cautioned against making Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC) mandatory for students to meet their graduation requirements, arguing that although VTVLC is a great option for some students, others are better supported in a physical classroom. They also encouraged legislators to consider funding and governance separately, and to look at the CTE funding study that was completed under Act 189 instead of conducting an entirely new study. To read more, please link to the testimony below:

Act 173 Implementation

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee continued to take testimony on the implementation of Act 173. The witnesses included superintendents and special education administrators who provided the committee with personal accounts of how the implementation of Act 173 would impact their school districts and students; many expressed concerns about passing budgets. You can access the testimony here. In addition, the committee heard from Mary Lundeen, Past President, Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators (VCSEA) and Jessica Spencer, President Elect, VCSEA who asked the committee to consider a one-year delay of the 2360 Rules changes not associated with Act 173. Although VCSEA supports these rule changes, they are concerned that the field is not ready for such a big change in practice. To read the letter that VCSEA sent to AOE providing feedback on the rules, please link here.

Senate Education Committee

S.219: an act relating to ensuring compliance with the U.S. and Vermont 4 Constitutions in the use of public funds for tuition and in the dual enrollment 5 program

The Senate Education committee continued its work on S.219 last week, spending time reviewing different drafts of the bill with legislative counsel and hearing from Bor Yang, Executive Director of the Human Right Commission. The committee will review a new draft 4.1 of the bill on Wednesday.

S.189: an act relating to the status of Holocaust education in public schools

The Senate Education Committee took testimony on Tuesday on S.189, a bill that would require the Agency of Education to report to the Senate and House Committees on Education on the status of Holocaust education in public schools and its recommendations to ensure that Holocaust education is included in the educational programs provided to students in public schools. Wendy Geller, Data management and Analysis, Division Director, Agency of Education, and Jess DeCarolis, Division Director, Student Pathways, Agency of Education provided feedback on the bill. To read their testimony, please follow the links below:

The committee will continue discussion on this bill next week (week of February 7).

Universal Meals Task Force Report

Act 67, enacted by the Vermont Legislature in 2021, required that a task force - composed of the: Secretary of Education or designee, Secretary of Human Services or designee, and Secretary of Agriculture or designee – be created to investigate and make recommendations to the legislature on how, not later than the 2026– 2027 school year, to achieve the goal of providing universal school lunch for all public school students at no cost to the students or their families. Specifically, the task force was charged with:

  • Recommending funding sources for universal school lunch;

  • Recommending what data should be collected by local education agencies, school districts, and schools to qualify for federal funds based on student poverty, the means by which the data should be collected, the frequency of collection, and how this data should be reported to the Agency of Education and the frequency of this reporting;

  • Considering how other states offer and fund universal school meals at no cost to students or their families; and

  • Meeting with Vermont’s federal delegation to discuss what changes could be made to federal law and regulations to more readily facilitate universal school meals.

On February 1, the House Education Committee heard testimony from AOE representatives in the Child Nutrition Programs and the Federal and Education Support Programs, and also received the Recommendations of the Universal School Meals Task Force. Due to the uncertainty of the federal Build Back Better (BBB) bill, coupled with uncertainty about whether or not the USDA will extend the current waivers that allow for universal student meals beyond this school year, the committee is likely to return to this topic later in the session.

The Task Force report provides the basics of the federal school meals programs and their operation in Vermont, summarizes the options currently available under the federal programs for offering meals at no charge to all students – a concept known as “Universal Meals,” and provides information on how some schools in Vermont are already offering universal meals. The report outlines estimated costs to the state or local funding required for universal meals and recommends that if the legislature moves forward with universal meals, it should identify a state-level funding source for the additional costs incurred to provide these meals, rather than creating an unfunded mandate for local districts. The Task Force report presents possible options for measuring student poverty and states that the AOE has recently taken several steps to improve direct certification efforts. The report provides 10 recommendations that should be taken, with the 10th recommendation including a list of lesser actions the legislature could take if they do not wish to require and fully fund universal meals at this time. Lastly, the Task Force did not recommend the creation of a special grant program for a few reasons: 1) grant programs require significant additional labor for state agencies to manage and for local schools to apply for, 2) the AOE is already seeing grant fatigue among schools who do not have capacity to apply for or manage the many grant programs created with COVID-19 funding, and 3) competitive grant programs funded annually do not allow schools to plan ahead for the funds, and the transition to universal meals should be done as a multi-year decision.

We will continue to monitor discussion on this report and update you with any developments.

Pupil Weighting

On December 17, 2021, the Task Force on the Implementation of Pupil Weighting Factors issued its final report to the General Assembly. In their report, the Task Force recommended two options for systemic changes to Vermont’s school funding system for consideration by the General Assembly: 1) adopt the general set of school-level pupil weights proposed in Tammy Kolbe’s October 28, 2021 memo, and apply each of the existing weights under consideration and proposed new weights using an additive mathematical function rather than a mix of additive and multiplicative functions; or 2) adopt a cost equity payment approach that provides “equity payments'' to school districts derived from the weight cost equivalents. Following the discussion of these two options, the Task Force laid out a series of recommendations that should accompany the adoption of either option as well as a list of additional recommendations that could also be pursued (see pages 5-7 in the report). One of the recommendations was to eliminate the weight for English Language Learning (ELL) students and create a targeted categorical aid program to fund ELL programs in Vermont. The work has been divided across different committees of jurisdiction. Senate Finance is considering the two options for systemic changes - pupil weights or cost equity grants, and will address how to measure poverty; Senate Education is considering changes to small school and merger grants, early college, and ELL; House Education will work on special education, Education Quality Standards (EQS), and student mental health; and House Ways and Means will look at the Education Tax Advisory Committee and property taxes.

Weights v. Cost Equity Grants

The Senate Finance Committee took lots of testimony last week on the two options for systemic changes to Vermont’s school funding system - pupil weighting or cost equity grants. On Wednesday, Sue Ceglowski, Executive Director of VSBA, testified in support of adopting the general set of school-level pupil weights proposed in Tammy Kolbe’s October 28, 2021 memo and the January 11, 2022 memorandum from Dr. Tammy Kolbe et al. to Representative Kornheiser and Senator Hardy. To read Sue’s entire testimony, please link here. On Friday, Jeff Francis, Executive Director of VSBA, and a number of superintendents, including Libby Bonesteel (Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools), Jennifer Botzojorns (Kingdom East Supervisory District), Zach Mclaughlin (Springfield School District), Lynn Cota (Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union), David Young, (South Burlington Supervisory District), and Emilie Knisley, (Orange East Supervisory Union) offered testimony to the committee. The witnesses were in agreement that adjusting the pupil weights is preferred over cost equity grants, provided that a well-designed transition plan is in place. Several witnesses urged the committee to take action to address the current inequities as soon as possible. Earlier in the week the Senate Finance Committee seemed to be in agreement with moving ahead with implementing the corrected pupil weights. Click here to listen to 2/4/22 testimony in the Senate Finance Committee and here to access written testimony.

English Language Learning as a Categorical Grant

The Senate Education Committee has been working through the Task Force’s recommendation to eliminate the weight for English Language Learning (ELL) students and create a categorical aid program to fund ELL programs in Vermont schools. Last week the committee heard from Kirsten Kollgaard, Director of Multilingual Learner Programs, Winooski School District, and TP Niroula, Bhutanese Nepali Multilingual Liaison, Winooski School District who raised concerns about moving away from weights for ELL students in favor of categorical aid program. Kirsten told the committee “[a]djusting the pupil weights allows for maximum flexibility in how we use funds to support all of our students, and to build the inclusive programming our students need. Categorical aid can lead to unnecessary siloing of students, as those funds are only allowed to be spent on “EL” students.” To read her full testimony, please link here. The committee also heard from Tammy Kolbe, UVM, and Brad James, AOE, on 2/2/22, Deb Brighton, JFO, Stephanie Yu, Public Assets Institute, Mark Tucker, CCSU Superintendent, and Bill Anton,WCSU Superintendent on 2/3/22. The Senate Education Committee will continue its work on the issue next week and will relay their decision to members of the Senate Finance Committee, who will fold the recommendations into their work on pupil weights versus cost equity.

Publication of State, county, and municipal notices on electronic news media

The Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony at the end of January on S.174, a bill that would allow municipalities and other governmental entities to publish public notices on electronic news media. Current law limits certain public notifications to a newspaper, which has been narrowly interpreted as a physical, paper publication. S.174 would allow newspaper notification to include “electronic news media,” which would be defined as an internet website dedicated to Vermont news that is regularly accessed and used by Vermonters. The electronic news media must meet the following criteria: the majority of the website’s content must be published in English; the website must be accessible to not less than a majority of residents in each county to which it is directed; and the website must regularly publish information that is typically of interest to Vermont residents, property owners, or the general public. For municipal notices, the website must be regularly accessed by a number of persons from that municipality representing at least 50 percent of the population. In addition, an electronic news media website publishing public notice must maintain a separate, clearly labeled area for current and active notices. An electronic news media publishing public notice must also maintain public notices in a database that is searchable by keyword, date, subject, and publishing governmental entity. Municipalities and governmental entities must maintain records of notices published on electronic news media in the same manner as records of notices published in a paper newspaper of record. Notices that affect property interests may be published in electronic news media but must also continue to be published in a conventional newspaper of record.

Public School Mascots, Nicknames, Logos, Letterhead, and Team Name

S.139, an act relating to public schools’ team mascots, was taken up in Senate Education on Friday. The committee has considered the bill and recommends a strike-all amendment which would amend 16 V.S.A. § 164 (general powers and duties of the State Board of Education) in order to require the SBE to adopt rules governing public school mascots, nicknames, logos, letterhead, and team names. In adopting rules, the SBE will consult with the Agency of Education, the Vermont School Boards Association, the Vermont Principals’ Association, the Vermont Superintendents Association, the Vermont National Education Association, and at least two students currently enrolled in public school. As drafted, the bill would require schools to comply with SBE rules by December 31, 2023. If schools do not comply, the SBE will choose the mascot for the school district by April 1, 2024. The committee is currently researching the timeline for rulemaking, which could affect the implementation dates outlined in this bill.

PLEASE note that a full list of all bills introduced can be found here.


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