Priorities Emerge in Committee

It was great seeing a number of neighbors out at Town Meeting on March 6th! House and Senate committees do not meet during the week of Town Meeting. This timeframe generally marks the midpoint of the legislative session.

When State Representatives returned to Montpellier last week, policy committees worked quickly to advance priority bills. Friday, March 17th was the House’s “crossover” date — the deadline by which House policy committees had to advance bills in order for the Senate to consider them for passage this year without resorting to extraordinary legislative procedures. In the House Education Committee, we passed several important pieces of legislation prior to crossover.

Throughout the session, I’ve been a proponent of advancing reforms to improve access to Vermont’s career and technical education (CTE) centers. Students from across the state tell us that they want more opportunities for hands-on learning. CTE offers enormous potential for young Vermonters to acquire the knowledge and experience required for high skill, high wage jobs. I am pleased to report that the Education Committee unanimously passed a piece of legislation that proposes a pilot program to provide public schools access to grants to develop opportunities for grade 7 students to access CTE programming. The grants will also be available to create programming designed to assist students in deciding whether to enroll in career technical education courses. The bill next moves to the Appropriations Committee. I will be working with my colleagues to ensure more technical education opportunities make it to the finish line.

The Education Committee must annually pass a yield and tax rate bill. To do so, the Committee reviews the recommendations developed by the Administration’s and General Assembly’s consensus process, non-property tax revenue streams that enter the Education Fund, as well as school budgets adopted by local communities. From there, we set the rates at the level required to fund local decisions. I supported an amendment on this year’s bill to increase the slope of the relationship between tax rates and educational spending in a way that could create greater equity and fairness in how Vermont taxpayers fund education. While it is not clear if our amendment will make it through the legislative process, I think it’s important that we continue to look at our education funding formula to ensure it is functioning properly.

There will be a number of long floor sessions in the weeks ahead. Next Friday, March 24, is the deadline by which the House’s budget must advance to ensure we achieve a timely adjournment in May. If you have any questions or thoughts about the items above, or any of the issues coming before the legislature, I encourage you to consider joining one of the monthly forums I co-host with Rep. Houghton. Please join us this coming Monday, March 20th from 6:30-8:00pm at the Essex Senior Center located at 2 Lincoln St., adjacent to the village offices.