Miscellaneous Education Changes (H.461) - April 20, 2023

The Senate Education Committee came back to H.461 on Thursday to review a strike-all amendment that Legislative Counsel had prepared.

Senator Weeks questioned why are were “getting involved in homeschooling.” Chairman Campion noted the state has “always exercised oversight” but that the Agency of Education asked for them to streamline the oversight of it. The changes were also supported by the homeschooling community.

Senator Hashim commented that he felt like they were “taking a lot of things out,” wondering if these changes were really supported by AOE. Campion confirmed that they were, but asked the committee assistant to double check again.

The funding for the Act 1 (equity standards) Technical Advisory Group (TAG) was extended to September of this year in order to give them more time to complete their work. They may also want to continue with a smaller group after the work of the TAG is finished in order to address questions that come up surrounding the report.

Weeks wondered why this continued group was needed as districts usually seem “well able” to get technical and subject matter expert advisors when needed.

Amanda Garces (Chair, Social Equity Working Group) was sitting in the committee room and Campion asked for her comments. She noted that “lots of drafting” still needed to be done. They are leaning on the expertise of their members and a subgroup continuing after their work is completed would serve to “actually change Vermont,” she claimed.

The Committee was inclined to at least give them the extension they were asking for.

Moving on, Campion announced that a deal had been struck between the Agency of Education and the Agency of Transportation on a drivers ed pilot project to help get more instructors trained and into the field. There are two report-back requirements, the first on the development of the program in December of 2023, and then a second in 2025 on progress of the program.

Retta Dunlap (homeschool advocate) walked into the Committee and Campion welcomed her, saying “she may have been monitoring us.” Which was met by laughter around the room.

Senator Williams asked her directly “what is the benefit for the homeschoolers in this bill?” She responded that it was “mainly to get [homeschoolers] out from under some of the bureaucratic mess of the AOE.” She noted that someone from the Agency of Education had agreed that the current “minimum course of study doesn’t tell you anything.” She hoped the changes would provide homeschool families with “a whole new world of innovation.”

Williams agreed that homeschoolers he talks to “don’t want the AOE involved in their business.” He added that there should be some sort of guidelines so that “if at some point these children get into the mainstream they can and they are prepared.”

Senator Gulick wanted to “share some thoughts.” She argued that as a society we have decided to have an organization to oversee education because “we care about the outcomes of kids.” She believed that it was “really important that we monitor how we educate our kids.”

Williams responded that he thought “homeschoolers on average do better academically and they are good citizens.” He questioned why the legislature would need to “be involved in what they are doing.”

A back and forth ensued between Gulick and Williams, with the former saying that the societal impacts required more oversight and the latter questioning the need for that level of control. Campion eventually asked Dunlap to weigh in. She sympathized that she has similar conversations with homeschool families all the time and has to explain that the state has an interest in the education of a child as a future citizen. However, she noted, the current statute is not about mandating education or quality, it’s about “mandating attendance.” In her estimating, the state needs to know who these kids are and where they are, at a bare minimum.

Her concern is that there are some families who refuse to enroll with the AOE, and will now do so with the lighter touch of reporting requirements that is less burdensome.

Campion thanked her for her helpfulness as they moved onto budget conversations. He noted that the general fund budget was likely to be passed by the end of the week by the Appropriations Committee. They would have to figure out which fund some of the spending in the bill would come out of.


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