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Week 7: 2/15-2/18/22

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

Audio Recording (podcast)

Act 173 Implementation

The House Education Committee continues to take testimony on the impact of the implementation of Act 173. On Friday, February 11, the committee heard from AOE Education Finance Manager, Brad James, who discussed the impact of the transition to the census block grant on local school district budgets. Based on feedback from school business managers, Brad anticipates that of the 45 districts who responded, 37 will see a shortfall due to the transition. Those districts receiving less money under the census block grant will need to increase education spending, which will likely impact their tax rate. The committee asked Brad to model what would happen if instead of calculating the census block grant by taking an average of a school district’s special education funding from fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020, they took an average of their funding from fiscal years 2019, 2020, and 2021. This shift takes into account one year of pandemic spending and will increase the state reimbursement by about $5 million. Overall, this will decrease tax rates for districts. The committee was supportive of this change and will consider this language in a bill that will hopefully move quickly through the legislative process in order to help school districts who are negatively impacted by the transition to the census block grant model.

Pupil Weighting Task Force Report

Pupil Weighting: Draft Committee Bill 22-0593

Senate Finance continued its work on draft committee bill 22-0593, which codifies some of the work from the Pupil Weighting Task Force Report. On Wednesday, the committee focused on the sections of the bill addressing oversight and heard from stakeholders impacted by these sections, including State Auditor Doug Hoffer, Tax Commissioner Bolio, Catherine Benham, JFO, and Secretary French, AOE. The witnesses focused their testimony on the following:

  • The creation of the Education Fund Advisory Committee to monitor Vermont’s education financing system, conduct analyses, recalculate and recalibrate the pupil weights and categorical aid amounts as necessary, and to make annual recommendations reporting its findings to the General Assembly;

  • Moving the responsibility for the December 1 tax letter from the Commissioner of Taxes to the Education Fund Advisory Committee; and

  • Requiring that the State Auditor conduct a performance audit, conducted under Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, that identifies the successes and failures of the implementation of this proposal.

Of note, there was enthusiasm and support for the Education Fund Advisory Committee, and for the State Auditor playing a role in monitoring weights, but most agreed that it makes sense to keep the responsibility of the December 1 tax letter with the Commissioner of Taxes. The committee will continue its discussion and review of this bill. To read Secretary French’s testimony, please link here; to view the meeting, please link to the youtube recording.

Pupil Weighting: English Language Learners

Last week, Senate Education finalized its work on English Language Learners, culminating in a memorandum to Senate Finance with their recommendations. After weeks of testimony, the committee landed on a hybrid funding model that would:

  • Use a 2.49 pupil weight for all ELL students in all school districts;

  • Provide mini-grants ($25,000.00-$50,000.00 range)* to school districts with 25 or fewer ELL students, in addition to the weight, to ensure that they have sufficient resources to hire at least a part-time ELL teacher; and

  • Add 2.0 FTE positions at the Agency of Education to provide school districts with ELL program requirements, support, and guidance and to ensure that all school districts are operating high- quality ELL programs.

* Note that the committee is planning to add some language to the final draft of the memo that will recommend that school districts with under 5 ELL students receive a $25,000 grant, and school districts with more than 5 but less than 25 ELL students, receive a $50,000 grant.

On Friday, Brad James reviewed with the committee a chart that compares FY2020 rates versus estimated rates with a new ELL weight of 2.49 plus grants if applicable. He also provided the committee with a chart showing the impacts on taxpayers due to rate changes. The committee is expected to vote favorably on the memorandum on Tuesday, February 22. The Senate Finance Committee will then consider the recommendations, ultimately folding ELL funding into their pupil weighting bill.

Income-Based Education Funding

The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees are considering shifting more of the education funding from property to income tax. There are currently two bills (S. 212 and H.388) that have been introduced; both propose to simplify the Vermont education funding model and transition from a property-based tax to an income-based tax. On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee spent some time discussing what is being referred to as a “residential education tax,” an income tax on Adjusted Gross Income that would replace our current housesite tax. Deb Brighton, JFO, walked the Committee through some projections for consideration. Although H.388 is currently in committee, the committee is not considering the bill at this time, and is instead exploring the concept of an education tax on income.

On Friday, Senate Finance began its work on income-based education funding, hearing from Stephanie Yu, Public Assets Institute, Karen Horn, Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Jordan Gianconia, Public Policy Manager, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and Deb Brighton, JFO. Some committee members are interested in advancing a bill this session. We will continue to monitor the ongoing work of this committee.

House Education Committee

On Friday, the committee discussed Draft No. 2.1.1 of H.483, an act relating to potential new models of funding and governance structures to improve the quality, duration, and access to career technical education in Vermont. The current draft includes a general fund appropriation for the AOE to contract for services to complete a study which would be issued to the House and Senate Committees on Education, the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, and the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs on or by March 1, 2023. The committee removed language under Section 2 (a)(5), which would have required the contracted service provider to recommend “ways to strengthen the connection between the CTE curriculum and Vermont’s workforce requirements, regionally and statewide.” The committee unanimously approved the bill, which appears on the House of Representatives Notice Calendar for Feb. 22, 2022.

Title 16, Chapter 11 rewrite

Last week the House Education Committee continued its work on the Title 16, Chapter 11 rewrite. Going forward, towns who would like to withdraw from their unified union school district would follow the process laid out in this draft bill. The committee will continue its work on withdrawals this week.

Senate Education

S.283 Miscellaneous Education Bill

The committee dedicated a lot of meeting time last week to its miscellaneous education bill, S.283. The most recent draft, 2.1, includes the following:

  • Extends the determination of residency for tuition purposes for the Community College of Vermont to include refugees;

  • Extends the provision limiting the use of suspension or expulsion of public school students under the age of eight to include approved independent schools, or prequalified private pre-K programs;

  • Orders the Agency of Education to issue a written report on the impact of standardizing the entrance age threshold for public school kindergarten attendance;

  • Orders the Agency of Education to issue a written report with a proposed statewide uniform school calendar; and

  • Orders the Agency of Education to issue a written report with recommendations for a statewide remote learning policy.

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

S.139: an act relating to public schools’ team mascots received a lot of attention in the Senate Education Committee last week. The committee reviewed and discussed draft 3.1, which authorizes the State Board of Education to approve school branding for public schools and approved independent schools that are eligible to receive public funds, and establishes approval guidelines and an approval process that must be followed by local school boards and approved independent school governing bodies. On Friday, the committee heard from Secretary French who supports the purpose of the bill but advocates for a more streamlined process where local school boards would be required to adopt a model policy that would be developed in collaboration with the Vermont School Boards Association and the State Board of Education. Secretary French will provide the committee with some draft language outlining his preferred approach next week. To view the Secretary’s testimony, please link to the youtube recording (the discussion on S.139 begins at 1:06:35).

Collective Bargaining Rights of Teachers

On Friday, Jay Nichols from the Vermont Principals’ Association testified on the work that is underway on S.162: an act relating to the collective bargaining rights of teachers. Last week, representatives from Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont Principals’ Association, and Vermont-NEA met to work on language that all stakeholders can support. If the four associations are able to reach agreement, the new language will be presented to the committee on Wednesday, February 23.

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

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony from Jay Nichols, Executive Director, Vermont Principals' Association and Colin Robinson, Political Director, Vermont-NEA on H.572. This bill proposes to allow a beneficiary of the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System to resume service as an interim educator for a one-year period and continue to receive a retirement allowance for that period. To view their testimony, please link to the youtube recording (the discussion on H.572 begins at 25:31). Jeff Francis, Executive Director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, also offered written testimony in support of the bill. The committee will continue the conversation on Tuesday with State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

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

The committee continued its work on S.219 and on Thursday and Friday reviewed draft 5.2 of the bill, which reflected feedback from past testimony as well as feedback from committee members. There are four major changes in this draft. First, there are changes to the independent school approval process. Under this version, in order to receive State Board approval, an independent school must, in addition to satisfying any conditions required by the State Board, enter into a contract with the State Board agreeing to comply with the eligibility requirements delineated in this bill. Second, this version adds “religious indoctrination” to the list of prohibited uses of public tuition. Third, this version makes changes to the section addressing dual enrollment. Instead of focusing on where or how students are enrolled in order to determine eligibility, the focus is now on the types of courses taken, prohibiting the use of public tuition for classes that support religious instruction, religious indoctrination, religious worship, or the propagation of religious views. Finally, this version limits the use of public tuition for approved independent schools that are out of state to independent schools in bordering states and Quebec, except where student needs cannot be met. The committee signaled that they are ready to vote this bill out on Thursday.

PCBs and Lead

On Thursday, Commissioner Mark Levine testified on PCBs in Vermont schools and explained to the committee how the school action levels were set, the rationale behind the decision to focus on air as opposed to physical contact, and options for schools if PCBs are at or above the school action level. Please link here to review his presentation slides. Development of a screening value for PCBs in indoor air of schools is explained in this Department of Health memorandum. Please link here for recent guidance on short term occupancy options a school can take to decrease exposure to PCBs in indoor air. We will provide more programmatic and funding details when they are developed.

Commissioner Levine also offered testimony on testing and remediation for lead in schools and child care programs. The deadline for the first round of testing for lead in drinking water at schools and childcare facilities was December 31, 2021. In all, 98% of schools and 98% of non- school based childcare facilities successfully completed testing. Seventy-six percent (76%) of schools and 14% of non-school based childcare facilities had at least one tap with lead levels at or above the action level of 4 ppb. Bottle fillers consistently had the lowest lead levels compared to other fixture types. Sinks were the most common tap tested and had among the highest lead levels. Six sinks had results greater than 1,000 ppb, one exceeded 25,000 ppb. Lead results for individual schools and childcare facilities are available on the results website. To read the full testimony, please link here.


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