Legislative Update - February 26, 2023

Administrators of Vermont public schools came out swinging this week trying to drive through a bill that would eliminate public tuitioning to independent schools. They mostly repeated talking points that teachers unions argue nationally where vouchering or charter programs are introduced - i.e. not specific to Vermont or the program we offer to kids who live in towns that don't operate a school. The language they use is concerning and indicates a nationally-coordinated effort.

Other topics this week:

  • The thermal carbon-pricing bill (S.5) re-emerges in the Senate. Skepticism abounds.
  • School spending is coming in lower than expected. Signaling that growth property tax bill could be less than 1%.
  • The omnibus housing bill (now S.100) was voted out of the Senate Economic Development Committee.
  • The most harmful provisions were removed from the House elections bill.
  • The Senate announces Ranked Choice Voting will be delayed until 2026. Need for public education stressed.


Quote of the Week:

"Education freedom is nothing more than smoke a mirrors... groups supporting school choice have the goal of dismantling public education.”


Andrew Jones

Assistant Superintendent, Mount Mansfield Union SD


Pat McDonald

CFV President


Message of the Week:

It is really quite distressing watching administrators from our public schools disparage a public tuitioning system that has served Vermonters well for 150 years. They point to a national public charter and school voucher movement as a “boogeyman” that Vermont policy makers need to address. However, these are things no one is proposing for our state. We only want to keep a system where kids who live in towns that don't operate a school can choose an educational environment that works best for them. No one wants to take dollars away from our public schools but we do want what’s best for our children.

Rural Vermont has so many structural disadvantages, this is one of the few edges they have and now Montpelier is trying to take it away from them.


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Fiscal Sustainability

What you need to know:

  • Agency responsible for state pensions VERY concerned about divestment and other measures.
  • Thermal Carbon Pricing re-emerges in Senate Appropriations Committee, faces skepticism.
  • Administration officials lobby hard against S.5.

Vermont Pension Investment Committee

Eric Henry, the CFO of the Vermont Pension Investment Commission (VPIC) joined the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. He warned that current legislation may impact that projected return amount and would create a shift in what VPIC does. They have significant concerns with Senate bill on divestiture.

Key Points:

  • Pay is uncompetitive for VPIC employees. They want to increase to 50% of market rate over five years.
  • Questions linger about the viability of the projected 7% return for state pension funds.
  • VPIC is VERY concerned about divestment bill in the Senate and a CPI proposal in the House.



Thermal Sector Carbon Pricing (S.5)

After sitting nearly a week, S.5 was brought up in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon. June Tierney (Commissioner, Department of Public Service) testified that the $400K allocated in S.5 is not enough funding to achieve the goals for her department set out in the bill...

Key Points:

  • Administration officials lobby hard against the bill.
  • Senators express skepticism about the bill.
  • Bill sponsors attempt to gaslight the Appropriations Committee.



Possible Amendments to S.5

On Thursday the Senate Natural Resources Committee brought up the topic of possible amendments to S.5. It was a short discussion and no major changes where proposed, however they did discuss some minor concerns from Xusana Davis’ testimony the previous week...




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What you need to know:

  • Act 250 provision kept in the Senate bill.
  • Controversial parking requirements set to overrule municipalities.
  • Senate Economic Development votes unanimously in favor of the bill.
  • New proposal would defer $50M in property tax savings to future years.

Senate Omnibus Housing Bill - Tuesday

The Senate Economic Development Committee continued to do mark up of the Omnibus Housing Bill on Tuesday with two members of the Committee absent...

Key Points:

  • Controversial proposal to override local parking requirements kept.
  • Senator Clarkson expresses desire to keep development out of the "wrong places."
  • Act 250 exemption for housing developments with less than 25 units kept.



Senate Omnibus Housing Bill - Wednesday *VOTE*

The Committee met again on Wednesday to go through the final draft of the Omnibus Housing Bill incorporating the changes that had been discussed Tuesday. A Motion was made to pass the Bill out the Committee. The Committee voted 5-0 in favor of the bill...



Senate Omnibus Housing Bill - Friday

The bill (now referred to as S.100) was referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, who took it up on Friday. Legislative Counsel reviewed some of the areas where Act 250 might be triggered or not. The intent is for Act 250 to only regulate large scale development in Vermont...







What you need to know:

  • House continues testimony on eliminating independent school choice, public school officials lobby hard in favor.
  • New bill would introduce public school choice for elementary students.
  • Superintendents lobby against accreditation for public high schools.

Public Elementary Choice (H.209)

Representative Sibilia presented H.209 to the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The bill proposes to give elementary school students the choice to attend other elementary schools within the same Supervisory Union.



Giving Preference to CTE Students (H.278)

Representative Oliver presented his bill, H.278, to the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The bill would require the State Colleges and UVM to give preference in admissions to eligible VT students who have completed a career technical education program.



NEASC Accreditation

Jay Nichols (Executive Director, Vermont Principals Association) joined the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Chairman Campion said he had invited them to respond to the question: “Should we consider encouraging or requiring NEASC evaluation for public schools?”

The Vermont Principals Association is opposed to doing this, mostly because of cost and they feel like the benefit to them isn’t as great as independent schools.



Ending Independent School Choice (H.258)

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee took up the H.258, which would eliminate Independent school choice in Vermont. Andrew Jones (Assistant Superintendent, MMU) shared that he was also an education policy researcher at UVM and considers himself an expert on “school privatization.” As someone who strongly believes in the institution of public education, he voiced his support for the bill because he is “gravely concerned.”

Key Points:

  • A parade of public education administrators lobby for the bill.
  • Focus of seems to be on solving a national problem.
  • No answers exists for rural towns without public schools.



School Spending Update - Feb 23, 2023

the House Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday that 93% of budgets are in and education spending is now projected at 7.8%. The December letter from the tax department originally projected 8.5%.

Key Points:

  • Average property tax bills projected to increase 0.54% to 6.23%.
  • New property tax offset mechanism proposed to defer savings to future years.






Workforce Development

What you need to know:

  • State Colleges highlight their goal of reducing deficit spending by $5M per year.
  • Transition off of ARPA funds will require creativity.

Vermont State Colleges Funding

The House Appropriations Committee reviewed the FY2024 budget for the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) on Tuesday. Representatives from VSC shared that in 2020 the state asked them to close down three of their campuses to address a structural deficit of $25M per year. In response, they formed a committee and created a plan to reduce the operating deficit by $5M/year for five years.







Good Government

What you need to know:

  • Elections bill (now H.97) voted out of Committee on a 9-3 vote.
  • Fusion candidate ban abandoned.
  • Sore loser provisions removed from H.97.
  • Ranked-Choice Voting delayed until 2026.

Changes to Election Laws - Wednesday

On Wednesday the House Government Operations Committee heard significant testimony on their draft bill that would, among other things, ban fusion candidates. John Rodgers (Former State Senator) testified first. Rodgers stated that he believes in “One Person, One Vote, One Candidate, One Party.”



Mark-up: Changes to Election Laws (H.97) - Thursday

The Committee came back to the draft bill on Thursday with Chairman McCarthy announcing a strike all to H.97. They will insert all the language from their committee bill into that one as a vehicle.

Key Points:

  • Fusion candidates will now need to hit a 10% threshold.
  • Electronic returns finds both support and misunderstanding.
  • Sections prohibiting "sore loser" candidates removed.



Changes to Election Laws (H.97) - Friday *VOTE*

After more review and discussion, the Committee voted the bill out 9-3 on Friday.



Ranked Choice Voting (S.32)

The Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony on S.32 Thursday, which introduces ranked choice voting for federal elections. Chairwoman Hardy announced that she will be changing how the Committee approaches this bill...

Key Points:

  • Ranked-Choice Voting delayed until 2026 federal primary.
  • Secretary of State's office proposes study committee.
  • Town Clerks stress need for public education.




Things to watch for next week:

VOTE: Omnibus Housing Bill - Senate Economic Development (all week)

School Choice & Independent Schools (H.258) - House Education (Wed/Thurs)

Amending the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program (H.10) - House Commerce (Tue/Thurs)

Paid Family Leave (H.66) - House General & Housing (Wed/Thurs)

Universal School Meals - House Agriculture (Tue/Wed) & Senate Education (Tue)

Public elementary school choice within a supervisory union (H.209) - House Education (Tue)




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