Miscellaneous Education Changes (H.461) - May 10, 2023

The House Education Committee returned Wednesday to review the Senate’s as-passed version of the bill with Legislative Counsel. Chairman Conlon acknowledged that the House did not yet have possession of the bill, but he wanted to start preliminary discussions.

Mark Hage (Co-Chair, Act 1 Advisory Working Group) spoke to the Committee about a provision in the bill related to their work. He explained that the Working Group would need to have ongoing advisory role both with the State Board of Education (SBE) and with legislators.

The revised draft of the Education Quality Standards (EQS) was forthcoming and would likely be released by the SBE shortly for the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) and Interagency Committee on Administrative Rules (ICAR) to review. They wanted to extend funding for the group in order to “see this process through as far as possible.”

He explained that the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) proposed in the bill would be comprised of 12 members transitioning over from the Act 1 Working Group. The TAG would continue to provide assistance and advise to the Ethnic Studies Framework and the EQS.

Conlon invited Donna Russo-Savage (Principal Assistant for School Governance, Agency of Education) to speak to them about sections 9-11 of the bill, related to voting statutes. Russo-Savage indicated that the Administration saw no legal issues with these provisions and would defer to the legislature on the policy preference. Also, she did a quick review of the Agencies data and she believes the changes may affect about twenty-eight school districts across the state.

Conlon asked her to explain the three different configurations for school district elections. The first was town-by-town, where each town is represented on the school board and each town only votes for the member from their own town. The second option is a fully at-large model where school board members can reside anywhere and can be voted on by all voters. The third option is a hybrid model (which is contemplated by the language in this bill) which allows only a certain number of board members from each town to run, but they would be voted for by the school district at large. For instance, if all the towns in the district are allowed two members and there are four towns, they have a total of 10 members that will all be voted on by the entire district.

The first two models have been in statute since the 1960s. The complicating factor for the third model is the petition requirements for candidates. There have been some Federal court decisions that have affected this area. One of the proposals in the bill is to lower the ballot petition requirement to 30 signatures for towns in this hybrid model because they have quite small populations in some cases.

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