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Week 8: 2/22-2/25/2022

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Please note that the Vermont General Assembly is on break the week of Town Meeting and will resume their work next week. We will not issue a legislative blog next week.

Highly consequential bills:

As we speed toward cross-over, there are a number of bills that are moving quickly, and will have a big impact on public education, including H.329 (discrimination), 22-0593 (pupil weighting), 22-0493 (pensions), dr 22-0356(Act 173/special education rules delay), H.572 (retired teachers), 22-0275 (UUSD withdrawal language), S.162 (collective bargaining rights for teachers), S.139 (mascots), and S.219 (public funds to private schools). We encourage you to read the update on each bill and reach out to your legislators if you have concerns.

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

Last week the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs took up H.329, and the bill, which would go into effect on July 1, 2022, appears to be gaining momentum. Section 5 of the bill changes the definition of harassment in educational settings. It also removes “pervasive and severe” as an essential element of a harassment claim and instead lists a set of broad factors that would be used to determine whether there has been harassment, including a consideration of conduct that occurs outside of school. This side-by-side comparison of current law, the bill as introduced, and the bill with the proposed amendment is a helpful resource. The committee plans to take the bill back up after the break; we will continue to closely monitor this bill.

Pupil Weighting: Draft Committee Bill 22-0593

The Senate Finance Committee continued its work on 22-0593 - an act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight. The most recent draft of the bill, draft 3.12, reflects the work of the Pupil Weighting Task Force, Senate Education’s consideration of English Language Learning weights v. grants, and Senate Finance’s consideration of pupil weights v. cost equity grants. In the end, the committee decided to adjust pupil weights instead of implementing a new cost equity grant system, and adopted a hybrid approach for ELL funding, as proposed by the Senate Education Committee (link to memorandum to the Senate Finance Committee). Put together, this bill includes the following:

  1. New pupil weights: (Note that all weights under this bill are additive and not multiplicative)

    • Grade level weights: prekindergarten = negative 0.54; grades 6-8 = 0.36; grades 9-12 = 0.39

    • Economically deprived background weight: 1.03

    • ELL weight: 2.49

    • Weight for pupils living in low population density school districts - if the number of persons per square mile in a school district is 35 or fewer, apply a weight of 0.15; if the number of persons per square mile is between 36 and 56, apply a weight of 0.12; and if the number of persons per square mile is between 56 and 101, apply a weight of 0.07

    • Weight for pupils attending small schools - If the number of persons per square mile in a school district is 55 or fewer and the school district has a school with an average two-year enrollment of: (A) fewer than 100 pupils, then use a weight of 0.21; or (B) 100 or more but fewer than 251 pupils, then use a weight of 0.07.

  2. A requirement that the weights be updated at least every five years, with a one-year delay in implementation to allow schools time to prepare budgets.

  3. A new section addressing the needs of ELL students, including the creation of ELL grants to ensure that all schools have sufficient resources to hire at least a part-time ELL teacher. Under this bill, a school district with between one and five ELL students will get a $25,000.00 grant each year; a school with between six and 25 ELL students will get a $50,000 grant each year, in addition to the ELL weight.

  4. Maintains the merger support grant for districts who voluntarily merged, and provides that districts who involuntarily merged and who received a small schools grant in FY20, will continue to receive that grant, renamed as a merger support grant.

  5. A five-year transition period, beginning in FY24.

    • For FY24, FY25 and FY 26, the number of equalized pupils in a school district will be determined by averaging the equalized pupil count for the year of calculation with the equalized pupil counts for the preceding four fiscal years.

    • For FY27, the number of equalized pupils in a school district will be determined by averaging the equalized pupil count for the year of calculation with the equalized pupil counts for the preceding three fiscal years.

    • For FY28, the number of equalized pupils in a school district will be determined by averaging the equalized pupil count for the year of calculation with the equalized pupil counts for the preceding two fiscal years.

  6. Changes the way we determine whether a student is from an economically deprived background for the poverty weight. The General Assembly will determine a new measurement, not lower than 185% of the 2021 Federal Poverty Level (note that this language is likely to change in the next draft; the General Assembly will not likely determine the new measurement), with data collected from a universal income declaration form. AOE will form a working group by Oct 1, 2022 to develop a new form to be implemented for FY24.

  7. Suspends the excess spending penalty through FY28.

  8. Suspends the hold harmless provision through FY28.

  9. Requires the Vermont Center for Geographic Information to assist the Agency of Education in determining the number of persons per square mile residing within geographic boundaries of each school district.

  10. Creates 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.

  11. Requires 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.

  12. Adds six new Agency of Education staff positions: two full-time positions to support school districts in the provision of English Language Learner services; one full-time position to support school food programs, and develop and maintain the universal household income declaration form; and three full-time positions to provide financial and data analysis for AOE and the Education Fund Advisory Committee.

  13. Repeals the updated weights if, on or before July 1, 2027, the General Assembly has not revised the weights to reflect changes in cost factors from which the weights are derived after receiving a recommendation from the Education Fund Advisory Committee.

Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System (Pensions)

On Tuesday, the Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony on 22-0493 - An act relating to amending various public pension and other postemployment benefits. This bill proposes to make various amendments to pension benefits and other postemployment benefits for members of the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System and the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System. This bill also changes the reporting dates for certain actuarial studies for the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System, the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the Vermont Municipal Employees’ Retirement System. The part of the bill addressing the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System starts on page 31. The bill was scheduled for a vote on Friday but was postponed until after the Town Meeting break.

Act 173 Implementation

Last week, House Education took up and voted out miscellaneous committee bill 22-0356, which proposes to (1) adjust the methodology for computing the first year special education grant payment under Act 173 of 2018; and (2) suspend implementation of Rules 2362 and 2362.2.5 (adverse effect) until July 1, 2023. Specifically, Section 1 of the draft bill amends the census grant funding calculation for FY23 and takes the average of the amounts received in 2019, 2020, 2021 instead of 2018, 2019 and 2020. This should increase the grant amount that most school districts receive because it takes into consideration one year of the pandemic. Section 2 of the draft bill requires the State Board of Education to suspend implementation of Rules 2362 and 2362.2.5, in the hopes that this delay will allow time for people in the field to implement. The committee heard from Randi Lowe, Superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, and Mary Lundeen and Jessica Spencer from the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators (VCSEA), who testified in support of the bill. To read their testimony, please follow the links below:

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

Last week both Senate Education and House Government Operations took up H.572, a bill that would allow retired teachers to come out of retirement for one year while still collecting their pension payments. Jay Nichols, Executive Director of Vermont Principals’ Association, and Colin Robinson and Jeff Fannon from Vermont NEA testified in support of this bill and argued that it is a critical piece of legislation that will help to immediately address statewide educator workforce shortages. Please link here to read Jay Nichols’ testimony. They have all been working hard to move this bill quickly through the legislative process, and on Friday, the House Government Operations Committee voted the bill, with an amendment, out of the committee. The bill will now go to House Appropriations who will need to work through a few remaining issues, namely creating limitations on an individual’s ability to come out of retirement, and also devising a sunset provision for the bill. This bill has received significant opposition from State Treasurer Beth Pearce and thus may face a long road to passage.

Title 16, chapter 11 rewrite: Withdrawal from a Unified Union School District

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee continued its work on the withdrawal language that the committee is currently considering as part of its work on Title 16, Chapter 11. This draft language lays out the process for towns who would like to withdraw from their unified union school district. The committee heard from several witnesses last week; all raised concerns with the process set out in the current draft. As drafted, 5% of members of a petitioning town can start the withdrawal from a unified union, which is a low threshold in many towns for such a time consuming and expensive process. Further, under the current draft, the petitioning town can move forward with the withdrawal process even if the State Board of Education determines that a withdrawal is not in the best interest of the students involved, which significantly undermines the goals of Act 46. To read the full testimony, please link below:

To read all testimony provided on Wednesday, please link here. The committee plans to take up this language again after the break.

Collective Bargaining Rights of Teachers

The Senate Education Committee took a break from their work on S.162, an act relating to the collective bargaining rights of teachers, to allow for the executive directors of Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont Principals’ Association, and Vermont-NEA to work on language that all stakeholders can support. As introduced, this bill gives all teachers a period during which they could breach teaching contracts for the next school year without consequences (up until June 15 of each year). During the past few weeks, the committee heard from several school leaders who expressed concern that the proposed bill is extremely disruptive to the hiring and planning process and disadvantages rural school districts that are competing for teachers with better resourced school districts. VSBA will issue a legislative alert if the stakeholders can’t reach an agreement. S.162 is a high-stakes bill that will have a significant impact on public education. The Senate Education Committee will take up the bill again next week.

S.139: An act relating to team mascots

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee voted S.139 out of committee by a vote of 5-1-0 (Senator Terenzini voted ‘nay’). There have been many different versions of this bill. The approach ultimately taken was proposed by the Agency of Education. Under S.139, school boards and the governing bodies of approved independent schools would be required to adopt a local policy prohibiting mascots and other school branding that directly or indirectly references or stereotypes the likeness, features, symbols, traditions, or other characteristics that are specific to a protected class or the repression of others. AOE, in consultation with the Vermont School Boards Association and other stakeholders, would draft a model policy.

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 Senate Education Committee dedicated a lot of time last week to this bill, reviewing new versions of the bill and hearing from the executive directors of the Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont Principals’ Association, and Vermont-NEA who raised shared concerns with draft 5.5 of S.219. Ultimately, the committee passed draft 5.5 unchanged. To read the full testimony, please link here. Senator Campion has requested a fiscal note on the bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up S.219 over the next two weeks.

Other bills impacting education:

S.100 Universal Meals

On Thursday, legislative counsel and Senator Pearson walked the House Education Committee through S.100 - an act relating to universal school breakfast and the creation of the Task Force on Universal School Lunch, which was passed by the Senate and referred to the House Education Committee last year. Senator Pearson is a proponent of amending the bill to make both the universal school breakfast and lunch permanent. The committee will likely take the bill up in March.

Shared School District Data Management System (SSDDMS)

On Thursday, the House Education Committee reviewed some draft language, dr-22, with Bill Bates and Sean Cousino from the Agency of Education that would:

  1. extend the deadline for statewide adoption of SSDDMS to December 31, 2024;

  2. extend further implementation of SSDDMS until July 1, 2023, provided that: (1) the Agency of Education and its contractor for implementation of the system continue to support users of the system; and (2) a school district that does not use the system may join the implementation round, or choose to leave eFinance plus, during the pause period;

  3. extend the report deadline to March 31, 2025; and

  4. add a piece of session law on a joint report on SSDDMS.

*NOTE: Based on testimony provided by Bill Bates and Sean Cousino, the committee agreed to the changes noted above in italics.

The committee will likely send the language to House Appropriations for consideration, rather than putting it into a miscellaneous education bill.

S.283 Miscellaneous Education Bill

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee finished its work on S.283 and unanimously voted the bill out of committee. The final version of the bill includes the following (new section that was added last week is noted in italics):

  • 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;

  • Tasks the Building Bright Futures Council, in collaboration with the Agencies of Human Services and Education, to define suspension, expulsion, and exclusionary practices in early childhood education settings and to establish best practices for supporting children who face such measures, and tasks the Council with issuing a written report detailing its work and findings and making recommendations for legislative action;

  • Tasks the Agency of Education with issuing a written report on the impact of standardizing the entrance age threshold for public school kindergarten attendance;

  • Tasks the Agency of Education with issuing a written report with a proposed statewide uniform school calendar; and

  • Tasks the Agency of Education with issuing a written report with recommendations for a statewide remote learning policy.

S.197 An act relating to the Coordinated Mental Health Crisis Response Working Group

On Friday the Senate Committees on Health and Welfare, and Education, took up S.197 - an act relating to the Coordinated Mental Health Crisis Response Working Group. Section 2 appropriates $250,000 from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) to the Department of Mental Health to expand mental health services to youth in both school-based and community-based afterschool programming. This grant program is to occur in consultation with the Agency of Education and calls on the recipients of grant funds to work in close partnership with classroom teachers and school guidance counselors to coordinate supports, communication, and strategies.

Section 3 of this bill requires the Vermont Interagency Afterschool Youth Task Force to submit copies of its bimonthly progress reports on achieving expanded universal afterschool and summer programming to the House Committees on Education and on Human Services and to the Senate Committees on Education and on Health and Welfare.


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