The fifth week of the 2019 legislative session was dominated by education policy. Vermont’s school unification law (Act 46) is in its final stage. When Act 46 became law in 2015, it called for all of the state’s school districts to merge into new, more efficient structures by July 1, 2019. There were 267 school districts prior to the enactment of Act 46. Today, after many mergers, there are 154.
A final group of school districts have not unified and must do so to comply with the law. In late 2018, 34 mergers were mandated by the State Board of Education, the panel tasked with overseeing the last stage of Act 46. Representatives in the remaining communities that faced forced mergers banded together to ask for a 1-year extension to complete the unifications.
In the Education Committee, we took extensive testimony on the pros and cons of providing a 1-year delay to Act 46’s final merger deadline. We heard feedback from districts, like ours, that voted to merge early and did so with success. We also took testimony from districts that, for many reasons, felt they needed more time. Several in this latter category made compelling arguments. Others used the occasion to argue against change, which is no longer an option in many parts of the state.
Ultimately, I joined my colleagues on the Education Committee to vote against a universal 1-year delay. That approach was too broad and could have caused the progress to stall. In its place, the Education Committee developed a compromise proposal to strike the balance between school districts that can, and should merge this year, and a small number of outlier districts that truly need a delay until 2020. On Thursday, the House voted to pass our amendment on a vote of 134-10. I voted yes.
Making changes to our education system is a complex undertaking. There are no simple answers. The work of completing Act 46 mergers must go on so administrators, school boards, and educators can refocus on the issues facing our students. At the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring our kids get the best education in every corner of the state.
Education governance is one of many topics that are before the Education Committee and the House. If you have any questions for me, please join us at our next community forum. We will meet at 2pm on Sunday, February 17th at Sweet Alchemy Bakery and Café at 45 Upper Main Street. Come let us know what’s important to you — I hope to see you there!