Three Es Update

Campaign for Vermont's Three E's of Prosperity - education, ethics, and economics - have been getting a lot of attention in the State House this year. Here is a breakdown of what's been happening. 

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Commentary: Vermont Has a Negative Net Worth

Editor’s note: This commentary is by David Coates, a retired managing partner at KPMG — Vermont and a member of the Vermont Business Roundtable. He was a member of the 2010 state Commission on the Design and Funding of Retirement and Retiree Health Benefits Plans for State Employees and Teachers. He lives in Colchester.

Just recently the state’s financial statements were published for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018. For perhaps the first time in history, the state’s balance sheet shows a negative net worth of $200 million. In other words, our liabilities exceed our assets. By contrast, the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, showed our net worth was a positive $1.3 billion, so the logical question would be, what happened to give us a variance to the tune of $1.5 billion?

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Why we need Tech Ed

There’s a lot on the table for technical education in Vermont.

The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development brought H.533 to the floor, a bill with a strong focus on adult technical education and adult recruitment and a great compliment to year's Act 128 (which focused largely, though not exclusively, on school-aged Vermonters). Among other things, this bill allocates funds to training that results in industry-recognized certification or a registered apprenticeship, provides training for businesses with 50 or fewer employees, and explores the creation of a fully integrated adult career and technical education system. The bill also takes steps to face recruitment and relocation needs, seeks to address licensing barriers for medical professionals, and works to connect military families with Vermont jobs.

Senate Committee on Education worked on 19-1201, which passed out of committee with a vote of 5-0-1, that would require Vermont Technical College to create a pilot program for delivering degrees through career technical education centers around the state. The stated goal of the legislation is to have 70% of Vermont’s workforce holding some form of post-secondary degree or certificate by 2025. The bill also asks AOE to assist with the alignment of degree programs with workforce priority needs.

The House Committee on Education brought forward H.516, which would require schools to expose students to skilled labor training opportunities as early as 5th grade, promoting the idea that the trades can offer the right person just as much success, if not more, than a college education. 

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Ethics in Vermont are Under Threat

Ethics in Vermont are under threat. The House Committee on Government Operations is considering a draft bill that will undermine accountability, transparency, and efficacy of ethics standards for Vermont State Officials. There is a hearing and possible vote by the Committee scheduled for Friday.

The draft committee bill proposes the following changes to current law -

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A Brief Introduction to Education Finance

Trying to understand how Vermont pays for its schools can be a difficult task. This Joint Fiscal Office paper from Chloe Wexler, Fiscal Data Analyst, and Mark Perrault, Senior Fiscal Analyst does a great job breaking down the basics. 

Click here to read the paper. 

Takeaways from the report:

  1. Vermont has a unique education finance system – a statewide funding formula coupled with local property tax administration.
  2. School boards set budgets and submit them to voters for their approval, maintaining local control over education spending.
  3. The Legislature sets education property tax rates annually at the level necessary to fund voter-approved school budgets.
  4. To comply with the Brigham decision, the homestead property tax rate is a function of district per-pupil spending rather than property wealth.
  5. The tax bills of homeowners who are eligible for a property tax adjustment also vary in proportion to per-pupil spending.
  6. Since the enactment of Act 68, the nonresidential tax rate has been uniform statewide – the tax rate is not directly related to per-pupil spending.

Commentary: Case Closed

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Don Keelan, a retired certified public accountant and resident of Arlington. The piece first appeared in the Bennington Banner.

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Penny wise, pound foolish: closing the Salisbury Hatchery doesn’t make long-term financial sense.

Nearly two out of every three Vermont residents hunt, fish or watch wildlife. This is second only to Alaska as a percentage of population participation in these activities. In fact, according to a 2015 University of Vermont study, “the most recent national survey of wildlife-related expenditures, Vermont residents and out-of-state visitors spent approximately $685 million a year on hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service 2012).”

Looking at the latest annual numbers from the American Sportfishing Association, fishing in Vermont by residents and non-residents generates $147.1 million in retail sales, resulting in an additional $225 million of economic impact. It supports more than 2400 jobs and $73.2 million in wages and salaries, while generating $15.9 million in local and state tax revenues.

From the die-hard to the weekend-warrior, the seven-generation Vermonter to the traveling vacationer, Vermont’s angling community has a significant impact on Vermont’s bottom line.

So why does it, in the eyes of the State, make sense to jeopardize this entire industry for want of $250,000?

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Report Summary: Staff to Student Ratios

Following last year’s special session, the Vermont General Assembly instructed the Agency of Education (AOE) to establish a task force to examine staffing patterns among Vermont’s supervisory unions and school districts (SU/SDs). This task force was to examine student:staff ratios across a variety of school configurations and student demographics. One of the stated goals General Assembly requested of the task force was to consider whether staff-to-student ratios should be included in statute for the FY 2021.

This full report can be read at the link here. Below is a brief summary of their findings.

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Commentary: Correct Act 46

This commentary originally appeared in The Caledonian Record. You may read it on their website here.

Click here to contact your legislator and ask them to stop the shenanigans before there is too much damage done to our schools.

Correct Act 46

To the Editors:

I am writing to appeal to Vermont’s legislators to help remedy some of the considerable damage that the uncertainty surrounding Act 46 has done to Vermont’s small towns -such as my home town of Cabot- when they convene in January. Remedies might include maintaining small school grants, reforming special education funding and administration, reforming school funding, and promoting initiatives to support the economic health and vitality of rural communities; such as an expansion of broadband access, funding for community economic vitalization, and education and training relevant for rural Vermont.


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Act 189 Implementation Update

Last year the Vermont Legislature passed H.919 (Act 189). This bill, which Campaign for Vermont (CFV) supported, is a comprehensive workforce development bill that addresses increasing our labor force through a variety of methods. It supports further integration of Career Technical Education (CTE) for both students and adults; it works to align our educational offerings with the demands of a modern workforce; it looks to better coordinate efforts of existing programs; it prioritizes the creation of a workforce that is accessible to all Vermonters. 

The Vermont Department of Labor (VDOL) and the State Workforce Development Board (SWDB) spent time between sessions implementing much of what was called for with Act 189. In January they released their implementation report. You can read the entire document here.

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