On May 1, 2024
State News

The final two-week countdown

There are about two weeks left in Vermont’s 2024 Legislative Session. This is not a lot of time to negotiate policy differences between the House and the Senate. A great deal of policy work is still not settled, which concerns me. I am not a fan of the work that is often done in the rush of last minute. The FY25 state budget and the Transportation bill have only just gone into Conference Committees (the six person committees: 3 House, 3 Senate, designed to negotiate the final policy) and we await passage of the Act 250/Housing bill, H.687, and the Data Privacy bill, H.121, in order to even set up Conference Committees.

On Tuesday, April 30, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the confirmation of the governor’s appointment of Zoie Saunders to be our next Secretary of Education. As you may have read, this has been a controversial nomination, as Ms. Saunders’ experience has been almost entirely working for a for-profit charter school company in Florida, Charter Schools, USA. Other than being a parent of children in public schools, and a 3-month stint in the Broward County public schools in a strategy capacity, reimaging district operations, Ms. Saunders has no public or in-school work experience. She has never taught, served on a school board, or served as a principal or a superintendent of a school. In short, her very modest in-school management experience makes supporting her confirmation as our Secretary of Education tough.

You may ask, why does this matter? It matters because whoever our new secretary is, will be facing an extraordinarily challenging moment in Vermont’s public-school history. Vermont has tough choices to make about a number of issues: school funding and budgeting, billions of dollars of needed school renovations and construction, a significant loss of workforce, increases in health care costs, general inflation, and the post-Covid mental health challenges our students, staff and faculty are confronting. And, at some point soon, Vermont needs to address one of the thorniest issues few are willing to discuss: that of the Supreme Court Carson v. Makin decision, which requires us to send public taxpayer dollars to religious schools, through our school tuitioning program. 

It will take a knowledgeable and experienced educator and manager to navigate the challenges ahead and a person of real vision to lead us. Vermont needs someone who not only values public education — this foundation of our American dream and our democracy — but someone who is qualified to serve as Vermont’s public education champion. 

One issue that has been settled for this Biennium is that Vermont voters are closer to having the opportunity to amend our constitution with Proposal 3 in the 2026 General Election. With the House passing the measure 129-8 this past week (the Senate had already voted in favour 29-0), the Legislature has signaled its support of this Proposal which would embed in our constitution the right for workers to organize and collectively bargain.

As you may recall with our Reproductive Liberty amendment — voted on by Vermonters in the 2022 General Election — it takes two biennium to pass a constitutional amendment through the Legislature and onto the Vermont voters. In the 2025-26 biennium, both chambers of the Legislature will have to vote ‘yes’ again, without changing a word of the Proposal, in order for it to be included on our ballots in 2026.

Sen. Clarkson appreciates hearing from you. She can be reached by email: aclarkson@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at the Statehouse (Tues-Fri) 802-828-2228 or at home (Sat-Mon) 802- 457-4627. For more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: legislature.vermont.gov.

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