Senate Appropriations restores small schools grants

By Amy Ash Nixon, VTDigger.org

The Senate Appropriations Committee late Wednesday, May 6, approved an education governance reform bill after preserving small school grants.

Both the House and Senate versions of H.361 had called for phaseouts of state supports, which included small schools grants and a hold-harmless formula (the “phantom student” subsidy) that have subsidized small schools and schools with declining enrollments.

The committee voted unanimously to strike a section of the Senate version that would phase out small schools grants, which cost the state about $7.2 million a year. The elimination of the hold-harmless provisions was left intact.

Since under the plan some geographically isolated schools would keep small schools grants, the committee determined the savings would be only $3 million to $4 million out of the $1.5 billion education fund.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said for small schools, losing the supports that have helped them to stay open flies in the face of the bill’s intent, which states it does not intend to close small schools, or schools at all.

“Those folks are saying, it’s not your intent to close us, but you’re starving us to death,” Sears said. “How do I respond to that parent from Readsboro?”

The committee also struck a section that sought $50,000 for leadership training to help districts experiencing chronic leadership problems.

An amendment calling for Pre-K programs and special education services to be evaluated by the Agency of Education was approved.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

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