Miscellaneous Education Bill - March 13, 2024

Legislative Counsel provided a walk-through of the House Education Committee's v3.1 of the draft bill on Wednesday morning. There were a number of minor changes, but section 8 of the bill would re-introduce a uniform chart of accounts that school districts and supervisory unions will be required to use to provide reporting data to the Agency of Education around budgets and other financial information.

 

Military career options are being added to the Flexible Pathways program, which is a federal requirement. Federal law requires that all military options be treated equally in career counseling, career fairs, etc. For instance, Legislative Counsel pointed out that if a college is allowing table space or pamphlets display, the law requires that all military options be treated with equal access.

Representative Brady pointed to vandalism as something with real costs that is unaddressed here. Some schools have closed some bathrooms due to an inability to monitor them. Representative Brownell countered that they have heard “it is another mandate that goes too far into the field.”

Chairman Conlon asked Brady to speak about the tie-in between the Flexible Pathways program and the Act 67 Community Schools (CSs) funds ending. She argued for putting the CSs under the Flexible Pathways program in order to continue that funding stream.

Representative Williams noted that she had been supportive of the CS program and likes the results but now “here we are again.” the funding was one-time and now she is “really torn” about continuing. Brady steered the conversation back by saying the pilot program here was a success and so we ought to continue. She suggested they develop it as a continued “competitive grant” system and not exclusive to already participating entities.

Representative Taylor also loves the model but in a “cost crisis environment” he questioned if it would be best to address other items.

There was some debate about where the funding for this competitive grant program would come from. If it was from the Education Fund it would drive up property tax rates. They could transfer from the General Fund to offset, but that is also already under stress from decreases in tax revenues.

During this debate, Brady admonished that people are conflating Flexible Pathways and early college. She argued that early college is serving “mostly affluent kids.” And suggested that AOE lead them through what is best way to address the long term need.

NOTE: We would love to see the data that suggests early college programs primarily benefit affluent students.

Representative Buss stated that “CSs could be our revolutionary future of education and so how do we get the information about that option and where we are going without this program?” She sees this as “a less expensive way to focus our vision of where we are going and it allows us to build every year… we keep fixing kids later… an incredible investment.”

Representative Austin added that she is still very concerned about accountability for proficiency-based report cards, individual learning plans, flexible pathways and professional development across the state. She wants them (presumably AOE?) to get a handle on the data about where these are.

She felt they were so often asked to make a judgement call and she would much rather make decisions based on data. Her point is they have competing valuable options and is not sure they have the data for Brady’s proposal.

Taylor wondered what kind of changes they are not discussing to make schools more efficient. He hopes the CSs is a winner but not enough information to make the decision yet. Conlon was sympathetic but said “it’s kind of a statement about our belief in the program.” They don’t know what will happen in the Appropriations Committee, so he is  “very compelled to keep the program rolling… because we are on the cutting edge of rural CSs.”

Austin asked if any of the existing ones would close down without the money. Conlon admitted he is not aware of anyone abandoning the model without the money. He added that the UVM assessment is critical and will be the tipping point for some.

The latest draft (v.4.1) is available here.


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