Blog: Final Reading: Full plates – vtdigger.org

Jay NicholsJay Nichols
Jay Nichols, executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, speaks at a Vermont Board of Education meeting in 2019. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Editor’s note: We made our goal! Thank you to everyone who contributed to our Spring Member Drive and helped send 3,000 brand-new books to Vermont children through the Children’s Literacy Foundation. We are thrilled our members stepped up to support both our local nonprofit news and young news readers of tomorrow.

Last fall, Vermont school staff asked lawmakers to hold off on passing new education laws in the upcoming legislative session. 

In an October hearing of the House Committee on Education, Vermont’s teachers union and associations of principals, superintendents and school boards said they were swamped with the Covid-19 pandemic and had little bandwidth for education reforms. 

“Try as best you can this year to be the ‘do-nothing Congress,’” Vermont Principals’ Association Executive Director Jay Nichols told lawmakers at the time.

But roughly seven months later, as the legislative session nears its end, lawmakers’ plates have been full when it comes to education bills. 

Only some of those bills have been approved by both the House and Senate, and it’s not yet clear how many will be signed by Gov. Phil Scott. But many appear to at least have a shot at reaching the governor’s desk, if they haven’t already done so. 

The most significant is S.287, an upgrade of the state’s school funding system, which would make dramatic shifts to how state officials dole out money to local school districts. 

Lawmakers have also advanced S.100, which would provide free breakfast and lunch to Vermont students for the next school year.

S.197 would direct the Agency of Education to provide “statewide COVID-19 recovery supports” for teachers and school staff and create a grant program for counselors and after-school programs focused on students’ mental health.   

Another bill, H.716, would tweak the implementation of Act 173, a law that changes how special education funding is distributed to school districts.  

H.572 would allow educators to come out of retirement to fill teacher shortages without losing their retirement allowance, while S.286’s pension reform will also cover teachers.  

Other bills would create new rules for school mascots (S.139), change the procedures for schools withdrawing from their districts (H.727), and clarify teachers’ rights (S.162). 

That’s not all. S.283 would require the Agency of Education to study the possibility of standardizing the statewide school calendar, the age at which students enter kindergarten and a policy on remote learning, among other reforms.

“We came into the session hoping that the field who we represent would have a lighter load in terms of things to contend with. And that is not what transpired,” said Jeff Francis, the executive director of the state’s superintendents association. 

“But we understand what the General Assembly is doing and why they’re doing it,” he added. “No criticism from me on that.”

— Peter D’Auria


IN THE KNOW

Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, announced this week that she will not seek reelection after serving three decades in the Vermont Legislature. 

It just seemed like the right time to leave with her head held high, Pugh said.  

“I want to leave when people still think I’m doing a good job, and when I still like the job,” Pugh said in an interview Friday. 

Pugh chairs the House Human Services Committee, and has ushered through Vermont’s biggest reproductive rights legislation in recent years. 

Read more here. 

— Riley Robinson


ON THE MOVE

With no discussion or debate, the Vermont House moved swiftly Friday morning to unanimously override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of S.286, a pension reform bill brokered between public sector unions and lawmakers.

Republicans joined independents, Democrats and Progressives to advance the bill by a vote of 148-0. The Senate voted to override the governor’s veto — also unanimously — on Wednesday, and S.286 will now become law.

Read more here

— Lola Duffort

The Senate voted Friday to advance to a bill that would provide free breakfast and lunch for the state’s schoolchildren.

Last month, Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, expressed concern about the fact that the bill, S.100, had secured money only for one year of meals, and worried that it could pull money from efforts to clean up toxic chemicals in schools.

But lawmakers changed their minds after hearing stories from “those who were just above being the lowest-income Vermonters, who aren’t qualifying for free and reduced lunch,” Campion said on the floor Friday. “We all know those families. They’re in our districts. Some of us may have grown up in those families.”

The bill must be reconciled with the House’s version before heading to the governor’s desk.

— Peter D’Auria


ON THE FIFTH FLOOR

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed the clean heat standard, which is widely viewed as the largest climate change bill of the session. 

In his veto letter to lawmakers, Scott cited concerns about the potential financial impacts of the measure, which would incentivize a shift away from fossil fuel heat. Lawmakers had proposed charging the state’s Public Utility Commission with drawing up and implementing the full policy. Scott said he wanted that policy to be run back through the Legislature before being implemented. 

“I have clearly, repeatedly, and respectfully asked the Legislature to include language that would require the policy and costs to come back to the General Assembly in bill form so it could be transparently debated with all the details before any potential burden is imposed,” Scott wrote to lawmakers. “This is how lawmaking and governing is supposed to work and what Vermonters expect, deserve and have a right to receive.”

Read more here.

— Emma Cotton


ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Campaign announcements have become a daily, if not hourly, occurrence. Highlights from Friday include:

  • Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault, a Democrat from Cabot, announced a run for attorney general less than a day after the Democratic incumbent, TJ Donovan, announced he would not seek reelection. 
  • Mike Pieciak, former financial regulation commissioner, is running for Vermont state treasurer as a Democrat. Beth Pearce, who has served as treasurer since 2011 and announced Wednesday that she would not run for re-election this year, has endorsed Pieciak.
  • Williston Selectboard vice-chair and lawyer Ted Kenney is contesting incumbent Sarah George for the Democratic nomination for Chittenden County state’s attorney. Kenney, who left his post as a top staffer for state Attorney General TJ Donovan last month, faces a polarizing opponent in George, Donovan’s successor as Chittenden County prosecutor.
  • Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson announced her Democratic bid for state Senate on Friday afternoon. Watson’s launch came a day after Washington County’s 12-year incumbent Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, announced he would retire at the end of his term.
  • In rare news of a statewide incumbent not ceding their seat this year, State Auditor Doug Hoffer confirmed to VTDigger this week that he is indeed running for re-election.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Unable to join Vermont National Guard due to HIV, Norwich University student sues to change military policy (VTDigger)

‘Almost like a Greek tragedy unfolding’: Mother and daughter sentenced in Vermont slaying (VTDigger)

Smugglers’ Notch Will Offer Free Childcare to Employees’ Families (Seven Days)

Vermont Conversation: An abolitionist newspaper rises again (Vermont Conversation)

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