VOTE: Miscellaneous Education Bill (H.874) - April 2, 2024

Representative Brady walked through the House’s miscellaneous education bill, H.874, on the floor Tuesday. The first four sections of the bill would task the Adult Education and Literacy Student Access Committee created last year with making recommendations. The bill also adds funding for the Community Schools pilot project from the Education Fund. Another important provision of the bill brings back a Universal Chart of Accounts (UCA) requirement for school districts so that policy makers can more easily compare the spending of two districts. The key difference in this version of the UCA is it does not mandate that all districts must use the same software, only that they use the same accounting standards and categorization.

Representative Beck spoke for the Ways & Means Committee, saying that the Joint Fiscal Office estimated spending of $2.5M annually beginning in FY25. Mainly this covers an eligibility expansion of the Adult Diploma Program. This would be somewhat offset with $1.9M savings from repealing the High School Completion Program.

Representative Mihaly noted that the Appropriations Committee amendment added 60/40 split between the Education Fund and the General Fund for Flexible Pathways and Dual Enrollment. This was previously 100% provided by the Education Fund so the differential here covers the Community Schools program expansion.

Holcombe and Christie both offered amendments that they withdrew for lack of support from the Education Committee. Holcombe’s would have ended the town tuitioning system in Vermont.

Representative Sibilia asked a number of questions about the UCA, wondering how this would be implemented and what mechanisms the Agency of Education might have to ensure accurate and consistent reporting across all districts. She wondered how legislators are supposed to quantify that this has had an impact on the budgets and tax rates at the local level? Chairman Conlon admits his answer may seem a little bit flip “that the information… is in fact a piece of information that will be put into the UCA.”

Sibilia shared that she had high hopes about the UCA helping control and understand costs. “Again this year our taxpayers are pretty hopped up… in Wardsboro they are not really thinking about what is happening in Williston… struggles in the Kingdom… and this tool would be helpful along with quite a bit more technical assistance at the State level in terms of school districts making more informed decisions.”

Conlon noted that “only LEAs (or Supervisory Unions) are required to use the UCA.”

Representative Peterson asked if the new spending on the Community Schools program was “really necessary right now?” Brady gave a full-throated defense of all the work above and beyond education that Community schools do, saying that “this is potentially a model of the future. How do we do it well, how do we scale it, how do we draw down more federal dollars, what state agencies do we bring together... do we possibly even co-locate in schools… so this is certainly small in the grand scheme of the Ed Fund, but it allows us to continue that question at the same time we are asking big questions about our system as a whole…” She added that “What do schools do is part of the big questions we are asking right now.”

“So you have no specific things that they are spending money on that separates them from other schools,” questioned Peterson. Brady responded that “community schools is a way of doing school, not the building… and I can give many specifics… school-based healthcare, setting up telehealth…” she continued to list food delivery, clothing, and arts programs. Community School are “sort of the heart of the community and our democracy,” she concluded.

Peterson admitted that the education system is “complex” but that “people are sick of paying extra for education… and it seems to me if we are going to add one more million dollars to the cost of education now, after we just told folks their property taxes are going up in the neighborhood of 20%, I think this is unsustainable and unsupportable… I would ask folks to really think if we want to add $1M to the cost of education.”

Representative Kornheiser responded to critiques of the UCA and pointed out their use to evaluate the providing of social services which is happening at schools “in order for kids to get their educational needs met… it is necessary… and is happening in many different ways in many different schools…”

“We have a model for how best to deliver those services, and that is Community Schools… it is clear from our locally voted on budget decisions that we are spending this money regardless… in order to get their educational needs met… we are spending that as effectively and efficiently as possible… Community Schools is the one model we really have to do this work well. Community Schools has enormous potential to draw down Federal dollars, so the Education Fund in the medium and long term will actually be saving money because of our investments in these.”

NOTE: This is really the play here. Policy makers are trying to see how much federal money they can get to cover mental health and social services at schools by re-configuring the programming into this Community Schools model so they are eligible.

There was a voice vote in favor of the underlying bill and a third reading was ordered.

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