Progress Made on Key Education Bills

Updated on key education bills: water testing, Act 192, paid family leave, dual enrollment, and more. 

Water Testing (update from VISA)
House and Senate conferees reached a compromise agreement on the terms of a statewide school and child-care center water testing program to eliminate lead contamination from drinking water sources. The action level was set at 4 parts-per-billion or greater. Initial testing must be completed by December 31, 2020. State support for remediation costs is set at $1,800 per drinking fountain or ice machine, $650 for water outlets used for cooking and $350 per other water outlets in schools. The bill authorizes $2.4-million to pay all program costs. The program will be administered through the Vermont Department of Health.

Act 173 Delay (update from VISA)
Language authorizing a one-year delay for implementing Act 173 was inserted into the budget bill after House and Senate conferees were unable to find a satisfactory compromise on the original bill, H.521. The delay sets back the deadline for new special education finance and operating rules and support services to November 30, 2020.

Paid Family Leave (update from VISA)
The House-passed paid leave bill passed the Senate 19-10 last week after being amended to include a mandatory tax on employers as well as a payroll tax on employees. The benefits were substantially changed, resulting in a $30 million new program compared to the $77 million version adopted in the House. The votes in the House and the Senate are sufficiently close to give Governor Phil Scott a sustainable veto option.

Minimum Wage Bill Passes, Veto Possible (update from VISA)
The minimum wage bill passed 90-53 in the House last week after being amended to implement a longer phase-in to $15 per hour by 2026 instead of 2024. The longer timeline is an attempt to avoid a gubernatorial veto. However, just as with the paid family leave bill, the vote margin is close enough to give Governor Scott a sustainable veto option.

Education Spending
Last week the Senate Floor voted out H.536. The House (same day) refused to concur with the Senate version and called for a conference committee. The House put forward George Till, William Canfield, and Joey Donovan of Burlington. The Senate nominated Ann Cummings, Mark MacDonald, and Brian Campion. On Friday we saw an unusual occurrence where Representative Till was substituted for Ancel on the H.536 conference committee.

Dual Enrollment
The House Education Committee took testimony on the H.542 (funding dual enrollment) Monday. The Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) opposed moving dual enrollment from the General Fund to the Education Fund. Nicole Mace (Executive Director, VSBA) testified that there are currently several issues that could put stress on the state education fund. These include negotiations over school employee health benefits, lead testing, and clean water funding. Given the uncertainty over the impact that these issues will have, the VSBA does not want to take funds away from elementary schools or put more pressure on property taxes.

Secretary of Education, Dan French, supports moving dual enrolment. French stated that since dual enrollment deals with education it should be in the Education Fund, not the General Fund. Chairwoman Webb expressed concern with the pending lawsuit to expand dual enrollment to private religious schools and the impact that it could have on the cost of higher education. French noted that there are strains on the General Fund as well and that this is really an Education Fund spending item.

Act 177
The House Education Committee also discussed H.521, which delays the implementation Act 177 and now includes language from H.39 on delaying Act 46 implementation. Webb noted that she and other committee members have received a significant amount of correspondence on this issue from schools. Many feel overwhelmed with the pace of change in Vermont education. In addition, many districts feel that they have not received the necessary support from the Agency of Education (AOE) to effectively implement
these changes. They feel they need more support from AOE. Secretary French stated that he supports delaying the beginning of the changes but wants to keep the current end date, basically compressing the timeline. With the completion of Act 46, French feels that AOE will have more staff available to help in implementation going forward.

Conference committee negotiations are at a standstill. The House refuses to play ball with the Senate. It is unlikely that an agreement will be reached and no delay will be implemented. Read our How We Got Here article for some background on this issue.


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