Design of Public Education - April 9-11, 2024

Chairman Conlon introduced the concept before the House Education Committee on Tuesday, which was “to put the right people in a room together to talk about the vision for education… the problems that exist and how to address them… local control versus state control… all of the big topics we have heard and heard,” he stated.

He noted that they had invited Heather Bouchey (Interim Secretary, Agency of Education) to provide input on how the group is developed and who should be involved. He noted that next January may be a short time to “completely revamp public education in Vermont.” Bouchey was grateful for the discussion, calling this a “very broad topic and a very exciting topic.”

Conlon added some concepts for discussion:

  1. No legislators.
  2. Co-Chaired by the Secretary (or designee) and a designee of State Board of Education Chair
  3. Size – Maryland was pointed to as a very large example.

Bouchey felt it would be unfortunate if legislators were not included; she served on a restructuring group for Vermont State University where legislators were allowed. She felt the structure of that group was good. It was large and high functioning. She suggested three main topic areas for the “Public Education Design Team” include:

  1. The structure of the education system
  2. Funding of the system
  3. Determine the intersection of the academic, the engagement, the wellness for students.

“It would be a big mistake if we don’t have, from the get go, a strong lens of DEI in all of that work we are doing,” she stated.

Conlon appreciated the examples she provided, they will revisit that legislation and seek some parameters. They had some “unspent money” from school construction task force that they could use for this purpose. He favored the use of outside consultants and advisors.

Conlon wondered what “the charge here to the task force, how would we phrase the charge… wrestling with the balance between state control versus local control?”

“The first charge might be, how do we make sure we have the most efficient, effective, streamlined education structure and funding system,” she suggested, noting that is big enough in itself.

There was some discussion after this about whether they should be narrowly focused, broadly focused, or somewhere in between. They further debated whether cost, structure, or outcomes should be the priority. Bouchey also spoke to the need to “balance” the social services that schools are providing with the core educational mission of schools.

Bouchey asserted their focus should be achieving “the best 21st century system in the nation and the best most effective teachers.” Conlon agreed with the premise but added “at a price Vermonters can afford.”

Bouchey, seemingly caught off guard, responded that she “sometimes think[s] [affordability] can get in the way of us… thinking about the resources we might actually have… I hope that we can simultaneously figure that out while also identifying ways to actually improve our system…that might require different resources, not necessarily fiscal resources.”

Representative Brownell voiced that he was interested in virtual learning and also corporate learning opportunities.

Conlon stated their “greatest fear” is this is “all for nought” and that they want her to help develop the most effective group possible. Representative Brady shared that she had already started drafting some language to move this concept forward. Representative Taylor suggested they start with putting together a list of stakeholders they want to participate.


The Committee returned to this discussion on Thursday morning. Conlon noted that he went through his notes the previous night and thinks they’re trying to give as “broad of language to the commission as possible,” but that they might be able to bring in some specificity today. He commented that he thinks one of the questions they are considering - whether or not the Secretary of Education should an “apolitical appointed position” - is something that the commission should look at.

It was also noted that a recent Career and Technical Education report recommended looking at the physical size and footprint of the education delivery system. The language in the bill reads “The commission shall study and make recommendations regarding how the geographical and socioeconomic needs of different communities should factor into the delivery of education… including a recommended implementation plan for any amount of consolidation.” Additionally, the commission would be responsible for making recommendations regarding the role of public schools in both the provision of education, the social and emotional well-being of students, and whether wraparound supports should be included in the delivery system.

Representative Taylor stated that, to him, the most important issue is figuring out “how much money we’re spending and how much we’re going to have to tax people to get the money to support the education system we have.” He wanted them to focus on tasking the commission with that.

There was hesitation about how “more prescriptive about a deliverable for next January.” There was recognition that this was a monumental task, and they may only have some preliminary recommendations when they come back next year. There was, however, interest in “bending the cost curve” by adding intent language to this bill to ensure that the commission provides cost containing strategies as soon as possible, to avoid missing the FY2026 budgeting cycle.

NOTE: This language is almost identical to Act 46. That legislation was sold as “bending the cost curve.”

It was noted that the yield bill being drafted by the Ways & Means Committee created an Education Fund Advisory Committee that was meant to address the funding side of the equation. Their responsibility was addressing the delivery system side.

“We got too many classrooms that are operating,” stated Conlon. He wondered if they should also add something that “speaks to the ability to teachers in all schools would be qualified.”

The bottom line, they concluded, is that they need to look at consolidating schools, supervisory unions that are “close enough” to each other. Additionally, there was some interest in looking at the cost of moving into higher education on the Education Fund (property taxes).


When they returned later that day, a large part of their discussion focused around how to get geographic representation among school board representatives on the commission. It was pointed out that this was supposed to be a “cradle to career” system so someone should represent Early Childhood Education as well as higher education and the business community, maybe even mental health. Whether or not independent schools should have a say was also a topic of debate.

So far, their draft bill includes:

  • The Secretary of Education (or designee)
  • The Chair of the State Board of Education (or designee)
  • The Executive Director of the Superintendents Association (or designee)
  • Two Superintendents (one with a CTE center and another with a non-operating district)
  • Two representatives from the School Boards Association
  • Two representatives from the Principal’s Association
  • Two representatives from the VT-NEA, and the chair of the census-based funding advisory group.
  • A faculty member from the UVM Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program
  • Executive Director of the Vermont Rural Education Collaborative (or designee)

NOTE: The draft bill calls this a “Blue Ribbon Commission” but the hallmark of the previous Blue Ribbons was that it relied on a small group of smart people from outside the industry to make up the Commission. This was done intentionally to bring outside perspective to the direction and recommendations of the Commission. That independence is not reflected in this structure and further the makeup of this Commission looks quite similar to the Act 46 study committee. We can bet on what the outcome is going to be.

Showing 3 reactions

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  • Ben Kinsley
    commented 2024-04-18 20:47:47 -0400
  • Mike Russell
    commented 2024-04-15 18:54:59 -0400
    The proposed make up of this commission has far too many entrenched stakeholders. We don’t need another Act 46 study group. We need fresh perspectives drawn from other milieus.
  • Ben Kinsley
    published this page in News 2024-04-14 10:40:41 -0400

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