Future of Education Spending - Feb 13, 2024

On Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Conlon kicked off the House Education Committee by stating “we are at a major inflection point, crisis point, crossroads, whatever we want to call it, and we need to start having pretty broad conversations in this committee with people who are big thinkers in this area.” He indicated that they should be thinking about the tools they have available to deal with the major increase in spending on education.

Representative Brady added that they needed to look at the work that has already been done and understand how we got here. She believed it’s really not as much of a sudden crisis that we are feeling, or it’s being characterized right now. It took a while to get here. She felt that “system size” is one of the major challenges that the construction task force is doing the best work right now around this. She believed they need to “lean into that pretty heavily.”

Representative Brownell asked if anyone had studied how added pressures to the Education Fund have shifted over the years and if there was a place where we could get a sense of how quickly that happened and where it had been happening.

The Education Fund has many programs outside of local PreK-12 education, and those programs do have a negative impact on school budgets as they draw funds away from local property taxes. He felt they needed to understand all of those programs a little better.

Representative Buss wondered how they should define modern education with the necessary supports to get students through the day. She repeated the commonly heard assertion that schools are doing more today than they have in the past.

Representative Austin wondered if we should be asking more questions about the future of kids coming through school, and what they will need to be a contributing member of society in 2050. “I think schools are for academic achievement and mental health is an emotional system,” she stated. She believes mental health of students is creeping into schools and we have to keep this in mind when allocating funding to schools.

In the next twenty years, Vermont is going to be a tech hub, she claimed. As evidence, she pointed to the UVM/Global Foundries collaboration. She wondered what skills kids will need to work in this tech industry. There are a lot of questions legislators need answered about what goes on in our schools, and how do the state deals with social programs and curriculum.

Brownell asserted that these social programs in schools “can cost you extremely a lot of money” and wondered if they were “focusing so much on the social side that we're forgetting the curriculum.”

Brady added that she had “become persuaded” that the current model of having Secretary of Education is just not good because it “makes it so political.” She believes they should look at going back to a commissioner model.

Representative Stone said that it would be helpful to see an organizational chart to see what positions vacant and what positions are filled. She also said that it would be helpful to see how the Agency of Education has contracted over the years.

Buss made an argument for school consolidation, saying that “a lot of times I feel like we listen to parents that demonstrate values that they want to see for small rural schools, but I think there are a lot of kids that may not feel that way because it lacks the opportunity that they might be looking for.” Conlon, citing that some districts are highly leveraged with their building assets, added that “in some areas the buildings just need to come down.” Austin piled on, saying that “a kid with a computer and internet connection could get the same education as a kid in a building.”

Conlon noted that they would continue their discussion on school construction, but first they needed to hear some testimony about the levers that are available to them. He also wanted more understanding about the Agency of Education and how its capacity has changed over the years.

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