This week Administration officials came out strong on the Clean Heat Standard being contemplated by the Senate. They asked that the legislature hold off until more robust financial impact analysis could be done on the policy instead of passing it and then analyzing later.
Other topics this week:
- Administration officials introduce Governor Scott's $8.27B budget for FY2024.
- The Senate is also diving into housing reform by attempting to limit local zoning interference in housing construction and converting commercial properties to residential.
- The House Education Committee continues to look for gaps in independent school oversight. Meanwhile, Senate hears all the great things being done by one of our historic academies.
- Career and Technical Education is again on the front burner for policy makers.
Quote of the Week:
Until we develop a sizeable and sustained workforce able to do all of the weatherization work etc., putting more money into the system won’t accomplish anything more as the system is already maxed out on what it can do. (paraphrased from testimony on 1/25/2023)
CFV President, Pat McDonald
Message of the Week:
It is disappointing to see that the Senate is refusing to take up Act 250 in a meaningful way in the conversations around Housing. Advocates continue to steer public policy towards rental assistance, but (while that is important) it is becoming increasingly clear that accessible home ownership is where the problem lies. The Senate bill does little to nothing to address this and continues to expand on decades of failing state housing policies.
We are closing out 2023 priorities survey at the end of the month! Weigh in now on our direction for the next year.
Thermal Sector Carbon Reduction
- Administration calls for a halt on Clean Heat Standard
- Vermonters for Clean Environment rip Senators over CHS
- New TCI replacement met with cold response.
Senate Natural Resources Committee
Clean Heat Standard (S.5) – The Committee heard from Dan Fingas (Movement Politics Director, Rights and Democracy Vermont) on Tuesday. Rights and Democracy (RAD) is now supporting S.5 after opposing it last year. However, they say can be improved.
Proposals for improvement include language to ensure affordability to low-income Vermonters. Ensuring zero dollar out of pocket options are available for low-income Vermonters with a focus on helping renters. Also, they would like to see more specifics about who will be represented on the Clean Heat Advisory group created by the law.
Annette Smith (Executive Director, Vermonters for a Clean Environment) was up next. She identified a number of problems with S.5 (she referred to it as the “Stupid Clean Heat Act” throughout her testimony) as well as with the process that created it. The bill, she claims, is a solution in search of a problem and is not needed. We are doing enough at the state and federal level to address the issues the bill seeks to make progress on. She asked the Committee to justify why this is necessary. Especially when it is a distraction from other vital issues that need to be addressed.
Smith noted that S.5 would increase demand for electricity and questioned where it was going to come from. She believes the bill would overload the working capacity of the already overworked Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The carbon credit system is convoluted, and benefits financially organizations that are already doing this work.
NOTE: This is a concern. The people pushing the policies contained in this bill are clean heat sector businesses and electric utilities who have the most to gain by transitioning to electron-based energy.
She also questioned how the legislature going to hold the PUC accountable for how they run the program. Further she wondered if there be an electric version of LIHEAP so low-income families can afford to heat their homes with electricity. If so, what is the cost?
Other observations and/or suggestions she made included:
- The appliances required are either too expensive or don’t exist.
- Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) should not be allowed to harvest out of state methane and count it toward credits.
- In state landfill gas makes sense. Perhaps even only allow in-state renewable natural gas.
- The bill will force Vermonters to buy more appliances they can’t afford, and this promotes inequity.
She called the bill a “stupid and corrupt policy based on money.” According to her, it’s dangerous to put all of our energy eggs in one basket. The electrification of everything “is a recipe for people freezing in the dark.”
Finally, she called for the legislature to hold accountability hearings for the Climate Council to see if they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing. As a constant observer of their meetings, Smith claimed that they are not. The Climate Council is dysfunctional and there is no dynamic for making decisions according to Smith. Rural Vermont is not being represented in this planning process.
On general topics, Smith believes that Vermont’s overall energy policies need updating. We need a new strategic approach to energy development. We have a biodiversity crisis, which the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) and its reliance on in-state renewable energy (wind and solar) would exacerbate. As an example, she cited the solar energy project under consideration in Shaftsbury, which would damage Vermont’s ecology while providing power to all of New England (not benefiting Vermonters). Vermont could be a leader in protecting our ecology, but our priorities are wrong.
Jared Duval (Vermont Climate Council) followed Smith. He insisted it is important that the bill be evaluated on accurate information and not misinformation. He made two high level points.
First, the notion that greenhouse gas reductions are not achievable. He cited Cadmus study that says these reductions are achievable, just not with existing resources.
NOTE: Duval’s organization Energy Action Network (EAN) is on record that there is not a sufficient labor force to do the work, and there is no realistic expectation that it will materialize.
He maintains that “we are not on track,” but that doesn’t mean that the targets are not achievable.
The second point he made was language around “forcing” people to adopt new heating systems and energy sources. The obligated parties are fuel dealers, not Vermonters, he argued. Vermonters are not required to do anything.
NOTE: This is functionally not true. By removing or making prohibitively expensive certain energy options, the state is in practice forcing Vermonters to act as the state wishes, regardless of citizens’ preferences. This is the underlying principle underlying any carbon-pricing scheme.
Duval claims savings from the Clean Heat Standard will amount to $6B by 2050. “If you add in the “social cost of carbon.”
Senator McCormack asked, “Can we maintain our middle class lifestyle with renewable energy, or do we have to consume less?” Duval avoided the question.
The Committee came back to S.5 on Wednesday, hearing from TJ Poor (Director of Planning, Department of Public Service), Melissa Bailey (Director of Efficiency and Energy Resources Division, Department of Public Service), and James Porter (Director of Public Advocacy, Department of Public Service)
The administration officials came on strong out of the gate, specifically asking the legislature to NOT pass a Clean Heat Standard this session.
They argued that the clean heat standard (CHS) is AN option for the thermal sector, but it is not the ONLY option, and we need to look at ALL the options. The Administration is calling for a pause on the CHS – this does not mean a pause on action in the thermal sector. They are doing many things now to improve efficiency in this area.
Biggest question the state needs answers to is what are the costs involved with implementing the CHS. The Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) states that we need to “transparently consider the pros and cons of the CHS” and we haven’t done that.
Chairman Bray noted that the CEP required a study into the CHS by January 2023, and asked if this took place. It did not because the study was never assigned, so the new study recently announced by the Governor due in July is going to accomplish this goal.
Committee members noted that there have been ten studies and questioned why another one is needed. Per the Administration, the July 2023 study is examining benefits and burdens of the CHS and other alternative thermal programs. The 10 other studies on this subject didn’t do this.
The Administration argued that we are already spending many tens of millions of dollars on thermal sector greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in both state and federal funds through many avenues (ARPA, the IRA, etc.), and this level of work appears to be at the maximum capacity for the existing labor force.
Until we develop a sizeable and sustained workforce able to do all of the weatherization work etc., putting more money into the system won’t accomplish anything more as the system is already maxed out on what it can do, according to the Administration officials.
Bray argued this bill doesn’t take effect until 2026, so why can’t we pass the bill now and let the PUC create the plan in the meantime? He pointed to fiscal analysis that is required during the rulemaking process.
COMMENT: This is bad public policy to pass a bill without a feasible path to implementation.
Of course, the rulemaking process takes place after the policy is law, and the Administration argues that it is important to have this data while crafting and before passing the Clean Heat Standard.
They still need to figure out how to regulate the fuel industry in regard to this policy, and don’t have the data to do that at this point. The program is complicated and the more complicated it is the more administrative costs incurred. This cost is an unknown.
How is the credit system is supposed to work needs to be vetted. It is unclear if some companies would be getting credits for things they are already doing. These questions should be vetted through a regulatory process before the bill becomes law.
Also, the burden on the PUC is concerning. They want time to allow for the stakeholder engagement to take place – the process calls for procedural equity and raising up the voices of Vermonters. Senator White challenged this point, saying the stakeholder engagement has already taken place through the Climate Council.
Poor countered that the Climate Council itself reported that their public outreach was not robust, and they wanted more time. He also noted that the way the S.5 is structured, public engagement occurs AFTER the policy is already in place.
Porter pointed to a consumer protection section in the bill. He wondered who is expected to do this work (traditionally the purview of the AG’s office) and if complaints supposed to be litigated by the PUC. Bray answered that this language is a placeholder that needs to be worked out.
S.24 Clean Fuels Program (S.24) – Senator White testified to the Committee on Friday on her bill, S.24, which would direct the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation to “adopt rules to implement the Clean Fuels Program,” which is the transportation fuel companion to the Clean Heat Standard for thermal fuels. This is designed to replace TCI-P, the now defunct interstate credit/tax system on gas and diesel, as the major policy initiative to reach the greenhouse gas reduction requirements under the Global Warming Solutions Act. No other solutions have been put forward.
Modeled on programs in Washington and California, the bill would require fuel providers to gradually reduce the carbon intensity of motor fuels by mandating an increase in the amount of biofuel blend motor fuel sold in state.
The bill directs the Department to develop “a schedule to phase in the standard to reduce the average amount of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of fuel by ten percent below the 2018 levels by 2030.”
Oregon has created a credit system. That’s not in this bill, but the Department in charge is directed look at the Oregon law for rule making.
White also sees this as creating create a revenue stream to subsidize electrification of the transportation sector under the GWSA, although she didn’t say how much revenue she wanted or expected the Clean Fuel Program to raise
NOTE: TCI-P was expected to raise between $20 and $30M annually from Vermonters.
Surprisingly, the Committee’s reception of the bill was tepid, given that there is no alternative suggested to replace TCI-P as a pillar of the GWSA and transportation being the biggest greenhouse gas producing sector of our economy.
Chairman Bray noted that California and Washington are far away, and they are big markets. And, at least in the case of California, have refining capacity to make the required fuels. He questioned whether a small market like VT would be able to get the fuels necessary to meet the obligations.
Bray asked, who needed to comply with the law, fuel dealers or gas stations? Legislative Counsel wasn’t sure, “it’s not specific in the bill” was the response.
Senator McCormack raised concerns that there is a perception (perhaps reality) that biofuels are really “greenwashing.”
White admitted that she didn’t like the idea of embracing biofuels, but that some bridge to full electrification of the transportation sector is necessary, though undesirable.
Senate Draft Bill
On Tuesday, the Senate Economic Development Committee reviewed a section of their draft housing bill addressing municipal zoning. Specifically it regards permit decisions whereby there shall not be any changes to lot size or parking requirements amongst other changes in municipal by-laws. When an applicant applies for a permit, this section specifically states that the permit applicant shall not increase the minimum parking requirements required in the municipal bylaws; reduce the building size to less than that allowed in the municipal bylaws, including reducing the building footprint or height; reduce the density of dwelling units allowed in the municipal bylaws; and otherwise disallow a development to abide by the minimum or maximum applicable municipal standards. Essentially, this means a municipality cannot change their zoning to block development of a specific project.
However, a decision may require adjustments to the applicable municipal standards, a municipality may issue a written finding stating why the modification is necessary to comply with a prerequisite state or federal permit, municipal permit, or a non-discretionary standard in a bylaw or ordinance, including requirements related to wetlands, setbacks, and flood hazard areas and river corridors; and how the identified restrictions do not result in an unequal treatment of housing or an unreasonable exclusion of housing development otherwise allowed by the bylaws.
The Committee looked at other another section of the bill relating to Act 250. As discussions continued, Chairwoman Ram Hinsdale made it perfectly clear that they would only be looking at Act 250 as it pertained specifically to certain housing issues and would not be addressing the statute as a whole. One area was the mixed-use developments, Senator Clarkson expressed that she would like to know whether these projects were successful and whether or not they maintained their affordable housing status long-term. When asked about further testimony as the Committee had questions, the Ram Hinsdale repeated that this was the walk-through and that specific testimony would be taken as appropriate. Again, only the mixed-use section of Act 250, as discussed here, appears to be open for discussion at this time.
Sarah Phillips (Director of Economic Opportunity, Department for Children and Families) spoke to the Committee about the need to build emergency shelters. She stressed that it is better for families and communities when we can help people experiencing a housing crisis to stay near their jobs, school, doctor, family and friends, and other services. She further emphasized the need for local partnerships to understand gaps, to right-size capacity, to expand affordable housing access and to keep people housed. She said that without more shelters people were being housed in motels.
Gus Seelig, (Executive Director, VT Housing Conservation Board) gave the Committee an introduction on their mission. VHCB-funded housing primarily serves households at or below 80% of Adjusted Median Income (AMI), in Vermont that equates to $49,578. Occupations served by VHCB housing include childcare workers; community social service occupations; installation, maintenance, and repair workers; nursing assistants, recreation workers, light truck drivers, and teaching assistants.
Chris Cochran (Director of Community Planning and Revitalization, Agency of Commerce and Community Development) spoke next, giving an overview of their Agency's role in housing. They provide tools, training, grants, and incentives for local leaders to plan and implement projects that support thriving and inclusive communities.
He highlighted the Vermont Better Places Grant Program, which looks to activate and revitalize public spaces to build vibrant communities across Vermont, while empowering residents to play an active role in shaping their community. The program seeks projects that build inclusive and welcoming spaces for social connection, health, and recreation and others that increase integrity of and equitable access to green spaces. These projects aim to stimulate the creative economy and provide equitable access to the arts while spurring entrepreneurship, partnerships, and public and private investment. These quick-build projects aim to boost community confidence and local pride and connect viable projects to individual contributors and matching funds.
Sue Minter (Executive Director, Capstone Community Action) and Ramsey Papp (Housing Team Manager, Capstone Community Action)discussed the data on the Department for Children and Families emergency and transitional housing programs, saying there were 1,811 households with 2,204 adults and 621 children as of January 13, 2023. The Minter then focused on child homelessness, saying it was important to sustain the Housing Voucher Program, and that in FY2023 we should add an additional $2.1M for housing vouchers, in addition to $3M added to the FY2023 budget adjustment. They also want another $1.5M for coordinated holistic support services (positions can be added to Family Supportive Housing program and use additional Medicaid funding). In FY2024, they are asking for $3.4M to reach 450 families in total. Each year thereafter they want an additional $1.7M to house an additional 80 families coming into homelessness, along with the annual budget of $1.5M for support services.
NOTE: The FY2024 budget ask comes out to around $7500 annually per family, which seems like a reasonable cost. However, we may need to find a dedicated long-term funding source.
John Adams (Director, Center for Geographic Information) spoke to the omnibus housing bill by giving a very brief history of land use patterns and related policies in 20th century Vermont. He pointed to the Planning Act of 1921 and how bylaws for the division of the municipality into districts or zones based upon the height, ground area and use of buildings and structures that were put into place. He spoke the vital importance of the fundamental of road economics, and how the matter of fundamental principles should be visualized by the Vermont public. At that time, rapid improvement in Vermont roads an highways was necessary and those communities with access to such resources saw outsized growth.
He addressed how the traditional rural scene in Vermont, characterized by concentrated settlement in villages and open countryside dotted with farms, is disappearing. According to him, the goal should be maintaining historic settlement pattern of compact village and urban centers separated by rural countryside.
Anne Sosin (Interim Director, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition) testified to the Committee, joined by Michelle Kersey (Director of Development, Downstreet Housing and Community Development) and Robert Little (Director of Community Development, Rural Edge). They gave brief introductions and updates, saying that they believed that homelessness was solvable. Sosin identified that more than 2,800 exited from homelessness since the onset of the pandemic; that there were 2,780 people experiencing homelessness (2022 point-in-time Count) of which 272 were families with children. She then turned to the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition's (VAHC’s) legislative priorities for 2023. They wanted to sustain bridges from homelessness to housing, expand rental assistance programs, preserve and redesign the general assistance emergency housing program, bring solutions to scale, make capital investments in affordable housing, provide full statutory funding for Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (they need of $175 million in capital investments), increased funding for supportive/human services, make investments in manufactured home communities and farmworker housing, enabling equitable policies and protections, and the need for zoning reforms for tenant protections.
Testimony on the draft bill continued on Wednesday with Doug Farnham (Deputy Secretary, Agency of Administration) speaking to the Vermont Underserved Community Index. The State of Vermont has received approximately $1.05B in State Fiscal Recovery Funds (SFRF) through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 public health crisis. As the State began awarding funds it sought to devise an intentional approach to distributing SFRF. It developed the Vermont Underserved Community Index (“the Index”) after determining that equitably distributing SFRF funds required a reliable, data-based method for identifying underserved communities and regions in the state.
In the context of this index, “underserved communities” refers to geographic communities that have been "systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.” The Index adopts this definition from the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, which the U.S. Treasury cites in its guidance on the equitable distribution of SFRF.
Farnham suggested that the Index can help state agencies by identifying communities that would benefit from targeted outreach and high-touch technical assistance to increase their awareness of available programs and their understanding of implementation requirements. That it would help state agencies incorporate a scoring rubric into the grant application review process that considers a community’s relative need and capacity.
Megan Sullivan (Vice President of Government Affairs, Vermont Chamber of Commerce) spoke to economic stewardship. She stressed that on top of inflation, ongoing supply chain issues, interest rate hikes, and layoffs/hiring freezes happening right here locally, the total impact of hundreds of millions in proposed taxes could overwhelm the Vermont economy. She also focused on Increasing the supply of workforce housing, presenting that high-demand professionals, like nurses, linemen, and CDL drivers, all need affordable middle-income housing options. People who are already here, and the people we need to move here to fix our workforce shortage, have difficulty finding and affording housing in Vermont.
Ron Rodjenski (Town Administrator, Hyde Park) spoke to the modernization of by-laws and how Hyde Park had a bylaw modernization grant from the State in 2016 and they did a major rewrite of their by-laws and was getting ready for another 2023 rewrite. His comment to the Committee was that in their last rewrite that they had already made similar changes that are being proposed in this bill as it pertains to some concepts giving flexibility to homeowners that where a residential unit exists a multi house unit could be restructured; however, within strict guidelines.
Removing Zoning Barriers to Housing Affordability (H.68)
Representative Seth Bongartz gave the Senate Economic Development Committee an overview of his House bill (H.68). He spoke to the need for revamping larger historic units in downtown areas and turning them into accessible and habitable housing and making the elevators more accessible and safe. Many downtown buildings were built for commercial uses and not residential ones and, he had no idea if this was possible, but we should look at turning these buildings into residential buildings and there would be a need to adjust codes and to provide safety measures. He was not sure if this all was a good idea or could be accomplished but wanted the Senate to consider these areas in their omnibus bill.
Michael Monte (Chief Executive Officer, Champlain Housing Trust) introduced the mission of his organization to the House General & Housing Committee on Wednesday. The Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) is a community land trust that supports the people of northwest Vermont and strengthens their communities through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable homes and related community assets.
The overall financial health of CHT for the fiscal year ending September 30th is very strong. This year caps several consecutive, unprecedented years of a rapidly changing financial landscape due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This has included many emerging revenue and development opportunities where CHT has served in a leadership role in responding to the needs of their communities, such as:
- Continued new program development to fill gaps, and dedicated funds to carry out those programs. This includes a new farm worker housing loan fund, down payment assistance to help non-white households access homeownership, and assisting property owners improve their apartments to bring them back online.
- A tremendous community response to their Homes, Health, & Equity campaign to bring in charitable dollars that will fund vital programs over the next three years.
- A commitment by the State of Vermont to invest hundreds of millions of dollars from pandemic relief and the general fund revenues into affordable housing, allowing CHT to create more housing opportunity this year and into the next two.
The financial results of these initiatives were presented to the Committee, but two critical measures are their net assets, which increased by $17.9M, and our total debt, which decreased by $3.8M.
Kathy Beyer (Senior Vice President of Real Estate Development, Evernorth) introduced her organization next. Evernorth is a nonprofit community development organization that provides New England states with low income housing tax credit syndication, real estate development services, affordable housing loan products and new markets tax credits to advance projects and policies. gave a general overview of debt, state and federal funding sources, and low income housing tax credits and partnerships.
Paul Dragon (Executive Director, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity) provides individuals and families with the basic needs of food, fuel, and housing support in times of crisis, and helps them acquire the necessary education, financial skills, and assets to build a stable future in which they thrive.
Services include: Housing Education and Advocacy; Homeless Services; Head Start; Financial Education and Microbusiness Development; Food Access Programs; Benefit Assistance; Tax Assistance and Preparation; Weatherization Services; and more.
Dragon focused on the risks to child homelessness and strategies and interventions:
Affordable Housing - Housing for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of income for gross housing costs, including utilities.
Rapid Rehousing with Rental Subsidies - Intervention that rapidly connects families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing through time-limited financial assistance.
Support Services/Prevention - Targeted support and coordination of services to place and keep people in housing.
Priority of the organization is solving child Homelessness NOW with the following asks:
- Include in the Budget Adjustment an additional $2.1M in rental subsidies to rapidly rehouse families. This funding is already included in the FY2023 budget adjustment.
- Include $1.5M in budget adjustment this year, and then annually increase support services for families through the Family Supportive Housing Program. This State investment will be matched with Medicaid Funding under the Targeted Case Management category.
- Include an additional $3.5M in FY2024 to sustain the rental subsidies and rapidly rehouse approximately 450 families.
- Include an additional $2M annually to continue to house an estimated 80 families coming into homelessness each year.
NOTE: the last two asks are very similar to what Capstone Community Action asked the Senate for this week (above).
- Civics curriculum in the works.
- Johnsbury Academy impresses Senators.
- Senate takes testimony on teacher evaluations and quality.
- House continues to look for gaps in independent school oversight.
Independent School Approval Process
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee heard from Dan French (Secretary, Agency of Education) about the staffing requirements for oversight of independent schools. Chairman Conlon opened discussion asking for a basic nuts and bolts description of who does what is done in this area and who does it. French stated he could come back for a regulatory and statutory dive later. He explained the process has changed since he was appointed in 2018.
Two lead staffers are involved in process; general education quality evaluations (previously they were contracted out), a financial component (requires interagency cooperation), as well as the interdepartmental coordination of reporting (i.e. special education team). The results are compiled in order to make a recommendation to the State Board of Education (SBE).
The pandemic lockdowns resulted in backlog, particularly with regards the site visit components of the evaluation, French anticipates assigning a project manager to address that backlog specifically.
After receiving comments from one of the SBE sub-committees, adjustments are made and then the full board reviews that application. He commented that “99% are approved there was one recently rejected, that is atypical.”
Conlon asked about parallels between public schools and approved independent school standards. French mentioned the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan where the regulations around quality assurance will apply to independent schools as well.
French also pointed out he can make the argument “there is no quality assurance process for public schools” currently. The ESSA plan is for compliance with federal rules. These rules will be evaluated by the SBE and it will be easier to return for a complete briefing. At that time AOE will be able to provide a “pretty good apples to apples comparison… and they both will be in regulation at that point. and I think that would be useful. to lay them out side-by-side.”
Representative McCann asked about the backlog and site visits and when they would expect an update. French estimated the initial approval process taking about six months for a new school.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer joined the Committee later in the day to discuss his report from 2019. One of the main things he flagged was that independent schools are not required to undergo financial audits. Approval from the State Board of Education does require the school to have “financial capacity” to carry out their obligations to students.
There are also personnel differences and there are employment condition requirements for public schools that independents are not subject to. Public school teachers also have higher education requirements and need endorsements. Something like the endorsement system exists for independent schools but not quite as robust (some of this is addressed through accreditation however).
Multiple pathways are required in public schools but there are fewer specific ones required in independent schools. The minimum courses of study also vary between the two. Class sizes are also required for public schools (even though classes sizes are often smaller in independent schools).
Non-discrimination rules are similar, however the language for independent schools does not specify that they enforce the anti-discrimination policies, just adopt and maintain them.
Representative Austin focused on school safety and mandatory reporting. She was concerned about some “recent reporting” that some abuse had happened at an independent school. Hoffer assured her that teachers are mandatory reporters regardless of where they are employed.
He also mentioned a second report that found that while the public school enrollment was dropping over the past two decades (around 10%), but at the same time independent schools enrollment was growing (about 8%). Chairman Conlon opined that a number of small public high schools have closed over the last decade and many of those students may have gained access to choice as a result.
Representative Stone asked about requirements for those teaching in independent schools. She wanted to know if special education is included in the requirements for teachers. She asked if Hoffer would look into special education over the next couple of years. There were some other questions in this arena as well, but it is likely changing or has already changed with the updates to the 2200 rule series.
On Wednesday, the House Education Committee heard from Josh Souliere in the Education Quality Division of the Agency of Education.
The Education Quality Standards (EQS’) were developed in 2014 and meant to ensure that all Vermont students received a substantially similar education quality. They had to suspend integrated field reviews during Covid and have not yet resumed. Field reviews involve educators and administrators in neighboring districts proving peer review to schools. They are not sure what that process will look like for independent schools but they are developing it now.
Later in the day on Wednesday, the Committee reviewed S.219 from 2022. The bill would require schools who receive public tuition to comply with all state and federal anti-discrimination laws that are applicable to public schools and to avoid using public tuition to support religious instruction or worship. The bill then sought to clarify the gap left by the Chittenden v. Department of Education case where adequate safeguards to prevent tuition dollars from being used for religious instruction where not defined.
Under the bill, schools would only be eligible for public tuition if they implement policies to comply all anti-discrimination, public accommodations act, fair employment act, and made reasonable efforts to comply. The State Board of Education must sign a contract with the State Board of Education in order to be eligible to receive tuition that prohibits schools from using tuition funds for a religious use.
There were also some processes set out in the bill, for example, the State Board of Education (SBE) must maintain a list of approved schools able to receive tuition on their website. The SBE would be responsible for developing a processes to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints about compliance.
The bill also touched on the dual enrollment program, removing the requirement that a student be publicly funded in order to qualify, but it also imposed the same anti-discrimination policies that approved independent school is required to adhere to.
Schools in other states or countries must be located in states or provinces in bordering states except for therapeutic schools. Those schools must also comply with anti-discrimination polices that are applicable to public schools in their jurisdiction.
Legislative Counsel flagged the requirement to force anti-discrimination policies onto the independent schools as a potential risk from a constitutional challenge around the first amendment. Some of these laws may already apply to many schools through fair employment practices, etc. The sections of the bill dealing with prohibiting tuition from being used for religious instruction, this will be overturned under Carson v. Makin. Even though this may be a Vermont constitutional issue under the compelled support clause, the federal government has been clear on this front.
The week ended on a high note with Headmaster Sharon Howell introducing herself and Saint Johnsbury Academy (SJA) to the Senate Education Committee on Friday. Her background started in higher education before she moved into preparatory schools. She has worked for several prestigious schools and said that the faculty ant SJA is the “most professional and thoughtful of all of them” and that “it is a minor miracle that St Johnsbury academy exists, and it exists where it does… and we take all students. The only qualification is that they are not a danger to themselves or others.” SJA has both a boarding school and a day school, which local students attend through the public tuitioning program. Amazingly, 71% of students in the district are on free or reduced lunch (one of the ways policy makers measure poverty in a given school) and they that have access to world class education and attend classes with students from 17 different countries.
However, like many schools, they have seen significant learning loss and the kids that are coming to them are just not as prepared. They have started doing summer orientation to get kids ready to start school and identify any areas that may require remediation so they can be successful at the academy. They hear from faculty about course work and receive their schedules so they can find out where they need to be, how to get there, and who their teachers are.
They are seeing a crisis in literacy and numeracy among their incoming students. In response, they opened a reading and writing lab along with a program accessible to local outside teachers to knowledge share. They have intervention groups that are 3-4 students in size for kids who need help with proficiency in these areas. They also have a life skills program to help kids find their way who have significant developmental issues.
They brought needs assessments in house so that families who suspect their kids have a developmental or learning disability don’t have to pay UVM $2500 to do the assessment there. They now provide this service to kids in their community for free.
They have built a health center that is staffed with five full time counselors. They have also brought in experts to teach students about “what is going on in their bodies and their brains when they are experiencing anxiety.” Additionally, they have launched a self-assessment process with an outside consultant to determine how well they are ensuring equity.
After describing the significant programs that SJA offers their students and the community, Senator Williams asked how they are able to pay for all these programs and services. Howell pointed to public tuition being critical to what they offer kids. Their boarding school students also pay a significant tuition that helps them cover the cost. Their public tuition is around $20,000 per student this year, but the cost for providing this level of education is closer to $25,000 so having this secondary source of revenue bridges the gap. They also have a small endowment that donors have helped to fund over the years that also helped.
Career & Technical Education
The House Education Committee kicked of Thursday as Chairman Conlon highlighted that technical education priority of Governor. He wondered how can we help our tech institutions and asked if we might be limiting people who can take career education.
Jody Emerson (Director, Central Vermont Career Center) noted that “until my son attended a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, I didn’t really know the opportunities that exist for students in CTE." That said, she believes there could be more opportunities for our kids. Of critical importance is finding methods of funding CTE that allows collaboration and doesn’t continue to pit CTE against high schools.
Emerson explained a small pilot program at her center. Her emergency services instructor, in collaboration with the Vermont Technical College paramedical program in Williston, took on two second year EMS students into his program. They have worked out a system of classes and credit which provides funding to both entities. Often the students in the EMS or medical courses would like to jump into their career as high school students and a barrier to that has been age. Though there are waivers around occupational hazards for CTE students in many areas, that has not been the case in health careers and students are not able to get job training until they are 18.
Career center’s ability will enhance the education of students and support workforce development. If we develop these opportunities for students, we diminish the costs they face should they continue with their college education and we strengthen their career preparation. The Vermont Association of CTE Directors expects a report from APA Consulting in early March, which will recommend a new formula for supporting CTE. Data already shows that students who take CTE in Vermont are more likely to stay in Vermont than traditional college students.
Parwinder Grewal (President, Vermont State University) spoke next, saying that the Vermont Technical College (VTC) certificate program one of best nationally ranked in country. If measured by return on investment, it actually ranks the highest in the country.
He noted that they cut tuition for their programs by $1,000 but still nursing is a problem; they can't compete for nurse educators because of salary. There are over 800 students in the nursing programs and they are hoping that most stay in Vermont. Other programs are experiencing this as well, just not as acutely. They offer certificate programs, associate degrees, and full undergraduate engineering programs but need to do a better job at marketing. Many people are unaware of the breadth of their program offerings.
If they could introduce more, he argued, they could do more. He wants to open up more opportunities to high school students. The partnerships VTC has developed in various industries has lead to very high job placement rates. If they can train workers they will get them into the workforce. Plumbing and electric apprenticeship programs in particular are very successful.
The next testimony from William (Bill) Luccio, (Assistant Director for Adult Education, Stafford Technical Center). He talked about their many "satisfied customers" in the Rutland area: many well-known businesses. Also talked about those within the allied health, transportation, and manufacturing and technology sectors. He focused primarily on workforce development programs, defining course titles, classroom hours, practical experience, credential earned and employment options. As he put it, they like to put the ‘work’ in our workforce development strategy through:
- Locally-based, skills and committed outreach counselor who advocates for adult technical education
- Customer-sensitive pricing strategies for seminars, programs and workforce development services
- Custom curriculum designed quickly and with no bureaucratic barriers faced for approval
- Long-standing business partner relationships and community networking
- Employer buy-in for free for service philosophy
- Flexible class and program scheduling according to employer needs
- Delivering site-based training even during pandemic
- Highly skilled adjunct instructors that are well-paid and respected and remain committed to our mission
- End of training credentials include opportunity to test for an industry recognized certification that is portable
The multi-layered relationship between Stafford Technical Center and the continuing education and workforce development program at VTC allows for the delivery of several GE aviation apprenticeships and plumbing apprenticeships..
Presenter Bob Bahny (Workforce and Adult Technical Education Coordination, Southwest Tech Center) went next. His tech center serves approximately 400 students in Bennington County. Their goal is for about 100 adult learners to graduate each year and they offer a broad spectrum of courses with tuition ranging from $199 for computers to $2,999 for CDL licenses. Many of their programs are found on the McClure Foundation's list of Vermont’s most promising jobs.
All 17 tech centers operate adult technical education with a significant variation in support and resources statewide. More than half of the students served come from centers who employ either a full time adult technical education coordinator or are in Chittenden County.
His takeaways for the Committee were:
- Adult technical education is a very effective part of Vermont’s CTE education and workforce training system
- CTE centers have awesome classrooms and labs that can accommodate many different types of classes and training that benefit adult leaners
- Adult CTE provides short term, cost effective, and flexible training and industry recognized credentials meeting the workforce needs of Vermont’s citizens and industries
- Many of the jobs they train for provide livable entry level of wages and benefits
- The challenge is funding – they are competing against public schools who have different schedules and they want equitable training time and equitable funding.
Ultimately their goal is a more consistent commitment to adult CTE statewide.
Presenters from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), Joel Moore (ECS liaison to Vermont) and Brian Kelley (policy analyst, ECS) shared that they believe in the power of learning from experience, and know that informed policymakers create better education policy by researching, reporting, convening, and counselling. Trends in teaching are focusing on certification and licensure, recruitment and retention, and increasing compensation. For students, new innovations include a focus on student mental and behavioral health, raisin awareness and providing support, school-based health services.
ECS provided a link to the Committee with a 50-state comparison on k-12 school safety.
Secretary of State, Sarah Copeland Hanzas, presented an update on civics education Tuesday to the Senate Education Committee. Chairman Campion lead first, asking about civic education and anticipated an Agency of Education (AOE) report. He expects variations across different schools but was excited about “getting it done” like John Dewey encouraged. Copeland Hanzas has appointed someone specifically to oversee civic education and she is interested in following her predecessor, James Condos’, interest in supporting voting accessibility.
The new civic engagement position in her office will coordinate with AOE and work with municipal assistance and elections teams for Phase 1. While this is happening, her team and AOE will work on curriculum to cover basic structural facts of our democratic process like what is the legislature, a Senator, etc. This education would start in early elementary grade levels and continue through in high school.
The second phase of engagement would focus on meeting Vermonters “where they are.” She mentioned things like farmers markets where she has engaged previously as a legislator.
Copeland Hanzas is still crafting these elements and is looking for participants who will be able to craft ideas to encourage volunteerism for local officeholders, interest in the positions most suffering from openings being unfilled.
Now that the General Election ballots are being mailed she wants her office to begin creating a voter guide, which would describe each office on the ballot and what roles they play. Voter guides ideally would have a QR code for each specific ballot which would contain information like the candidate’s websites and other helpful information for voters.
She also focused on the value of instant voter registration and same day registration but stressed her interest in why people “don’t vote” and outlined a few anecdotes. She believes that a “subset of the population” who endured some of the most tumultuous times (like 911, the Great Recession, and the pandemic) may not even expect opportunities that other generations had, like home ownership, retirement planning and starting a family. According to her, we need to train them how to participate in democracy and influencing the decisions that are made on their behalf.
Senator Weeks asked what resources are available and what else may be needed. Copeland Hanzas mentioned that the new Election Management System that is going out to bid shortly, the tracking of the newer information as we enter an election cycle on the new software will hopefully provide the infrastructure to support these voter guides.
Weeks also asked about the scope of the curriculum requirements. There were concerns in past proposals about creating another unfunded mandate for schools. Copeland Hanzas anticipates creating a “carrot approach” that will simply attract teacher and administrator interest. Weeks added that the Treasurer wants to teach financial literacy and wondered if there was any crossover. It sounds like Copeland Hanzas already started a conversation with the Treasurer.
Senator Gulick added “we have all taken our democracy for granted and hope their will perhaps be some professional development for teachers available.”
The Senate Education Committee heard Jay Nichols, Executive Director, Vermont Principals' Association, Friday afternoon. Chairman Campion introduced Nichols and reiterated they are looking for general description of the typical process in use around Vermont.
Nichols acknowledged that there is no statewide system or guidance in place that must be followed, while there are many similarities across different districts, there is not set standard. After talking with a couple dozen of his principals, he narrowed in on a set of best practices.
Almost all are differentiated as novice versus veteran teachers often according to negotiated contract provisions. Novice may simply mean a new-to-Vermont teacher, however all of these teachers are on a two-year probationary period according to Vermont statute. The period allows for dismissal with reason or cause, non-discriminatory reasons, or reasons for deficiency.
A veteran teacher can only be dismissed under a “Just Cause Standard” and they have recourse to the courts and arbitration is contractual and they are more likely to win, especially if they are past the two years. Nichols says he advises Principals to let teachers go before two years if they are falling short of basic performance.
However, malfeasance and misconduct are different and easier to terminate and he praises VT-NEA for being supportive in these instances. Insubordination cases are also not too difficult, while performance dismissals are difficult and require solid documentation, attempts at reform and supports in order to improve.
Apparently, the Gates Foundation spent millions of dollars and could not find a definitive link between teacher performance and student outcomes (there were likely too many compounding factors). These results are of interest and likely point back to home life, income, involvement and reading at home, and education levels of parents as still more indicative of student outcomes.
Nichols stressed they advocate for the “what works” model, which he and most principals agree is: regular walk throughs that are unannounced, informal observations and quick feedback on practice, formal observations scheduled following a lesson plan evaluation. All these are pretty effective for newer teachers as they learn the ropes.
Veteran teachers should still have evaluations every 3-5 years in a cycle of walk throughs with an evaluation report at the end of year. Supportive and collaborative coaching shows strong results for teachers, while also excellent for remedial supports along with proving videos and additional peer support for struggling teachers.
Senator Weeks asked about cameras in classrooms. The VT-NEA opposes them because of possible abuse, but Nichols agrees these should be considered and supports them.
Campion asked if he has seen any teachers that made the two years and were green lighted but shouldn’t have? Nichols indicated that he had.
Campion asked about whether the state has ever pursued a statewide standard. Nichols pointed to a Teach Effectiveness Guideline and it “sits on a shelf” but is available on the AOE website. Evaluations against this guide are required by licensure rules with regards to dismissals but there is no set process around how to evaluate those guidelines.
State Colleges Strategic Goals and Reporting
The House Education Committee reviewed H.456 from last session on Tuesday. Chairman Conlon noted that the bill was not originally controversial, making it through the House and Senate. It was sent to a committee of conference because it was late in the session and the decision was made to hold the bill over to this year. Conlon asked Legislative Counsel to read the bill be read as passed by the House and not to go through all the changes between the House and Senate versions. He noted that Chancellor Zdatny was present, but added that he felt that there are sections in the bill that definitely should be put in statute.
The strategic goals of the bill focus on affordable, accessible, and equitable post-secondary education that is relevant to Vermonter's needs. One of the requirements of the bill is that all high school students be required to complete the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) as a condition of graduation. It would also bolster the reporting requirements for the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and the Vermont State Colleges.
The bill also established an affordability standard to identify what programs are accessible to Vermonters. Conlon wrapped up testimony early and noted that Zdatny would be invited back to testify.
NOTE: This was not mentioned in Committee this week, but a poison pill was added by the Senate last year that compromised the integrity of the board of directors for UVM and the State Colleges. This is what the House objected to and ultimately why it failed in conference committee.
Owen Foster, Chair of The Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB), presented to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee with an introduction of the current board members. They include Jessica Holmes, PhD; Robin Lunge, JD; Davis Murman, MD; Thom Walsh, PhD, MS; Susan Barrett, JD, Exec. Dir.
Foster explained that the GMCB is an independent board that is part of state government. It was established in 2011, and is appointed by the Governor. The Vision of the GMCB is a sustainable and equitable health care system that promotes better health outcomes for Vermonters. Their core values include independent; transparent, data-driven, holistic; collaborative and accountable. It’s mission is to drive system-wide improvements to access, affordability, and quality of health care to improve the health of Vermonters. Also to regulate major areas of Vermont’s health care system, serve as a transparent source of information and analysis on health system performance, and advance innovation in health care payment and delivery.
Foster continued to discuss the GMCB regulatory scope. They directly regulate health insurer rate review, Certificate of Need (CON), and hospital budgets. In 2022, their oversight included 14 hospitals, 2 Accountable Care Organizations, 11 health insurance premium rate filings and 7 CONs that were issued (plus 3 with material changes and 5 that did not meet thresholds).
The GMCB innovation focus includes hospital sustainability (Act 167); Vermont All-Payer Model implementation and reporting, as well as general care, primary care, and prescription drug advisory groups. Following through on this legislation is a significant focus for the GMCB in 2023, which will include hospital sustainability, the hospital budget review process, the All-Payer Model, and access to primary care and affordability.
The House Appropriations Committee met at noon on Monday for a FY2024 budget presentation by Adam Greshin, the Commissioner of Finance and Management. He advised the Committee that they would be ‘approving’ approximately $8.27B in this years budget. Dollars are just about the same by composition is different. There is about $500M less in federal funds and $500M more in state funds.
Chairwoman Lanpher noted that for years there has been a statutory calculation of funds taken from property transfer into the General Fund that has equated to almost $23M spread out among general fund line items. She wondered how many houses could have been build if that funding had not been transferred and been sent to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board as originally anticipated.
NOTE: This is a good question. This would be useful analysis to have.
Greshin noted that $5.23B is state funds are to be allocated under the Governor's budget:
FY2024 general fund budget sources:
notwithstanding property tax transfer
direct app., reversions and transfers
|Total base GF before policy changes||2,112,910,096|
|social security exemption|
|Home Health Provider Tax sunset|
|Base revenue after policy changes||2,112,910,986|
|One time revenue||390,426,464|
The chair asked about the transfer to Transportation Fund for FY2024 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) state match of $15M. Greshin explained they are making sure they have the ‘match’ required if this money comes to fruition. The IIJA will deliver, the largest long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century. The need for action in Vermont is clear and for decades, infrastructure in the state has suffered from a systemic lack of investment.
Specifically, the IIJA will:
- Repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians.
- There are 66 bridges and over 650 miles of highway in poor condition.
- Since 2011, commute times have increased by 9.2% in Vermont and, on average, each driver pays $517 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair.
- Based on formula funding alone, we would expect to receive $1.4B for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs.
- Improve healthy, sustainable transportation options.
- Vermonters who take public transportation spend an extra 40.2% of their time commuting and non-white households are 2.6 times more likely to commute via public transportation.
- Over a quarter of trains and other transit vehicles are past their useful life.
- Based on formula funding alone, we would expect to receive $77M over five years to improve public transportation options.
- Build a network of EV chargers to facilitate long-distance travel and provide convenient charging options.
- The bill invests $7.5B to build out the first-ever national network of EV chargers in the United States and is a critical element of the IIJA.
- Vermont would expect to receive $21M over five years to support the expansion of EV charging networks in the state.
- We will also have the opportunity to apply for the $2.5B in grant funding dedicated to EV charging in the bill.
- Help connect every American to reliable high-speed internet.
- More than 14.5% of Vermonters live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Moreover, even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be accessible.
- Over 12% of Vermont households do not have an internet subscription.
- Vermont will receive a minimum allocation of $100M to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 40,000 Vermonters who currently lack it.
- And, 136k or 22% of people in in the state will be eligible for the affordable connectivity benefit, which will help low-income families cover the cost of internet access.
- More than 14.5% of Vermonters live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Moreover, even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be accessible.
- Prepare more of our infrastructure for the impacts of climate change, cyber-attacks, and extreme weather events.
- From 2010 to 2020, Vermont has experienced three extreme weather events, costing the state up to $1B in damages.
- Based on historical formula funding levels, Vermont will expect to receive $6M over five years to protect against wildfires and $12M to protect against cyberattacks.
- Vermonters will also benefit from the bill’s $3.5B national investment in weatherization which will reduce energy costs for families.
- Deliver clean drinking water to every American and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines and pipes. Currently, up to 10M American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water.
- Based on the traditional state revolving fund formula, Vermont will expect to receive $355M over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is accessible in all communities.
- Improve our nation’s airports.
- The united states built modern aviation, but our airports lag far behind our competitors.
- Airports in Vermont would receive approximately $28M for infrastructure development for airports over five years.
Over the coming days and weeks, the state expects to receive additional data on the impact of the IIJA in Vermont.
Another discussion point in the Committee was Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) contamination in Vermont's environment, Act 21 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Scott in may 2019. This law established an interim standard of 20 parts per trillion of PFAS compounds in public community water systems. The law required PFAS monitoring to be conducted by December 1, 2019. In July of 2022 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new drinking water health advisories for PFAS chemicals. They also announced that they are inviting states and territories to apply for $1B in grant funding to address these and other contaminates in drinking water, specifically in small or disadvantaged communities. Another $4B in funding is expected to becoming available in the coming years.
Things to watch for next week:
Carbon Reduction in the Heating Sector (S.5) - Senate Natural Resources (all week)
School Choice & Independent Schools - House Education (Tue-Thurs)
Housing Policy - House General & Housing (Thursday)
Amending the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program (H.10) - House Commerce (Fri)
Paid Family Leave (H.66) - House General & Housing (Tue/Wed) and Senate Finance (Thurs)
Broadband - Senate Finance (Tuesday)
Establishing strategic goals and reporting requirements for the Vermont State Colleges (H.456 of 2022) - House Education (Thurs)
Academic Freedom of Public Educators (H.106) - House Education (Tuesday)
Universal School Meals - Senate Education (Tuesday)
Child Care Financing - Senate Finance (Wednesday)
Ranked-choice Voting for Presidential Primary Elections - Senate Government Operations (Wed)
Proposition 1: Elections; sheriffs; qualifications - Senate Government Operations (Thurs)
We reviewed over 28 hours of legislative testimony to bring you this report, please consider supporting our work.
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