District Quality Standards - March 2, 2023

On Thursday, Dan French (Secretary, Agency of Education) testified to the House Education Committee about district quality standards. He gave a similar presentation to the one he gave to the Senate Education Committee weeks ago.

One thing he highlighted for the Committee about the recent weighting changes is that the Legislature is “not giving school districts more money, you are giving them more taxing capacity.” There is no guarantee they will make the investments with that capacity. The goal of District Quality Standards, developed in Act 127, is to incentivize those investments. Operations, facilities management, and school board governance practices are the “three legs” that the Agency of Education (AOE) saw were missing after the weighting reforms.

The Brigham case says we have responsibility for the education of all students in Vermont, and the litigation on Act 46 adds that “the state can delegate their authority but the state cannot delegate their responsibilities.” French believes that and underperforming (underspending) school districts need to be held to standards that fulfill these obligations. The AOE filed the rules in February and they are in the public comment period now.

Student outcomes are required by the federal government (no child left behind and subsequent legislation) but these evaluations of school processes are newer (a includes proficiency). A poor proficiency evaluation will trigger review of core processes (core curriculum and implementation).

Chairman Conlon wanted to hear about staffing at AOE and how French sees oversight technical support for Education Quality Standards (EQS). These are curriculum and student performance standards as opposed to operational ones. French responded one of the more important things he worked on was the Purpose Statement at the AOE; constitutional responsibility and the distilled equity and quality that is demanded there and in the statutes. “We do leadership, support and oversight” he said, “these three form the foundation of our work.”

He also mentioned that this will enable “targeted support” so that some deficient school districts may get oversight. He added that this will also help as they apply Act 1 (equity) standards and requirements for ethnic studies classes.

Another topic he mentioned was “coordination of curriculum,” which is relatively new. He believes curriculum decisions belong at the local (but not too local) level and the school districts themselves can best coordinate to deter inequity of opportunity. He cautioned that most successful organizations at the state level delegate some curriculum choices but have standards that guide that process.

Conlon noted that the Vermont School Boards Association had worked hard on governance standards. He doesn’t expect AOE to have expert staff or have a heavy hand; rather he expects self-evaluation and self-governance model under the new proposal.

Representative Minier asked about financial literacy and what it would that look like if that was adopted. French responded that if the State Board of Education adopts a standard, then local school boards would have to work out what to adopt. Some states have list of five curriculum options, for instance, and districts can choose to adopt one. He thinks Vermont would be on the end of offering more flexibility.

Representative Buss interested in oversight of business operations. French says they have yet to implement the software to so account will be standardized (a common chart of accounts). The software is not yet adequate or ready to be rolled out. He also thinks there is room for more business manager standards for financial management before auditing comes into play later.

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