State News

House passes comprehensive education bill to reduce spending, expand learning

On April 2, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a comprehensive education reform package that proposes to address growing disparity in learning opportunities for Vermont’s students, and places firm restrictions on local education spending growth.

“Vermonters want property tax relief and greater equity in education across our delivery system,” said Speaker Shap Smith. “Balancing what’s best for our kids at a price we can afford is no easy task, but Vermonters are counting on us to make tough decisions that provide better outcomes. The House bill advanced today marks a step toward real progress for students and taxpayers,” he said.

The House education bill (H.361) proposes to create larger school districts, promote greater equity in the delivery of high quality education to the state’s pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students, impose a moratorium on unfunded legislative requirements, cap spending, and focus districts on achieving greater efficiencies through economies of scale.

“Our committee felt strongly that all children should have access to an equitable array of services and opportunities. The viability of many schools is in real jeopardy as enrollments are projected to continue to decline over the next decade,” explained Rep. Dave Sharpe, chair of the House Education committee and a retired teacher. “We have a responsibility to remove barriers to operational efficiencies, cross-sector collaboration and meaningful program evaluation.”

The bipartisan bill was developed over several months and incorporates feedback from over 100 proposals submitted by citizens and stakeholders. On Feb. 27, the House Education Committee passed a preliminary version of the bill in a unanimous, bipartisan vote.

Rep. Bernie Juskiewicz, vice-chair of the Education Committee and a former school board member, noted the importance of moving a bill that improves Vermont’s education system for the 21st century: “I think this is a great day. This bill creates educational opportunities for the students of Vermont and it puts us on the road to consolidation and more efficient use of people and resources.” Ultimately, Juskiewicz said, “it’s going to have a positive effect for the taxpayers in the state of Vermont.”

“Vermonters asked us to pass a bill that will make a real difference in the classroom and on their tax bills,” Speaker Smith noted. “The passage of H.361 marks the first step in a process to improve education quality, control costs, promote sustainability, and provide students with opportunities to succeed. I would like to thank representatives Dave Sharpe and Bernie Juskiewicz, as well as the entire Education Committee, for their thoughtful and inclusive work,” he concluded.

The education bill will proceed to the Senate for consideration.

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