On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee took up the latest draft of their miscellaneous education bill. One of the major components of the bill is study on the compensation and staffing levels for the State Board of Education (SBE).
Chairman Campion raised the question for the Committee about whether they have consensus to “hire a third party to do this work” involved with the study. In a previous draft, the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) would have done much of the work.
Senator Weeks asked about the language used being “gender, racial and ethnic.” He suggested that there “are a 1,000 categories of diversity and why we keep focusing on these three and not others.” He gave the example of religious diversity, and questioned “why not just leave it as diversity?” Campion suggested it was about having our boards look a lot more like the rest of Vermont. “We are a pretty white state,” he added.
Senator Hashim understand what Weeks was pointing out and asked to hear from the State Equity Director about these questions. Campion argued that the SBE is sharing staff with Agency of Education (AOE), and they also are undercompensated. So, while “we admire diversity”, it’s not a very diverse Board. He wants to see them be more independent from AOE.
Campion suggested he may draft so new language around membership requirements. Currently there are ten members, including two secondary students appointed by the Governor.
Senator Gulick voiced her belief that compensation of board members is linked with attaining diverse memberships. She is glad to hear the Governor has made a commitment to boards being diverse but “who is holding him accountable to that and I would love to see some disabled students involved.”
Weeks jumped on that, saying “see now you ARE creating a lens. If you spell out geographic, gender, ethnic, racial, age, religion etc. you are creating a lens. Why create a lens?” Gulick responded that “racial diversity is very different from gender diversity which is very different from the voice of the disabled… each is unique.” Weeks as adamant that “at any moment in time those balances change.”
Their overall goal is a staffing structure that allows more Vermonters access to these roles on the board. Secondly, what does the SBE need for staff and funds to be able to actually do what they are charged with. They are contemplating creating a summer study committee to dig into these topics.
The Committee came back to this on Thursday with a fresh draft of the bill.
There was some discussion of what other states, like Florida, have done with prohibiting certain courses of study. Chairman Campion is worried about getting to far into prescribing curriculum, so it doesn’t “embarrass us.”
Senator Gulick asked if the language is looking at only public schools, or catholic schools and independent schools as well. She wants their curriculum studied too. Legislative Counsel pointed out that it was currently just public schools. Campion offered that he was “not against what you’re are saying at all and it could give us a bigger picture… A very interesting picture and that could be very helpful to us.” After some discussion, they agreed to include them but push the reporting dates out to July 2024.
Gulick also suggested decreasing the scope from K-12 to 6-12 to get better answers and include Career and Technical Education Centers (CTEs) as well. Campion agreed this makes sense and he will inquire about the CTEs.
They also reviewed new language for out-of-state Pre-K, which is one paragraph and describes a review of the NH, Massachusetts and NY laws and pre-approval standards for Pre-K.
Senator Hashim asks the obvious question: How can we tell a family they can’t go to an out-of-state provider if the family needs those services and no others are close enough? Even if we can’t control the quality. Campion agreed that is exactly the correct question and raises the point.
Legislative Counsel pointed out that approved independent schools we send tuition dollars to every day are required to be under some sort of review of standards. If the neighboring states have standards that are substantially aligned then no problem, but if the report allows there is no way to align the standards in a meaningful way, then the legislature will have a decision to make.
The Committee took up their latest version of miscellaneous bill again on Friday.
Joe Barch (President, National Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association) testified on some of the driver education aspects of the bill.
Ted Fisher (Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs, Agency of Education) spoke next, saying that the Administration is against the use of any Transportation Fund monies for driver education. The Agency of Education’s (AOE’s) original proposal was for regional driver education clinics based in school buildings.
Emily Simmons (General Counsel, Agency of Education) spoke next, she also provided written comments to the Committee. She noted that the AOE sees “several provisions of this bill” are concerning from a resource perspective. She commented that “new studies, and working groups present additional resource burdens on the Agency. Many of these proposals overlap with or have a natural affinity with work that is already in flight, in particular the State Board of Education’s work on the Education Quality Standards, and the Agency’s work on the District Quality Standards.”
Chairman Campion found her comments helpful and interesting and suggested he was open to giving them more time to work and he would look forward to the results. He asked when they may wrap up some of this ongoing work. Simmons could not say for certain, but though a January 1, 2024 expectation was reasonable.
There was also concern that the type and quality standards they describe in the bill does not currently get accumulated and collated by AOE and the granular details would be costly. Campion is interested in some areas of lower income offerings being substantially similar, but realizes they are not asking for the funds to do this.
Simmons suggests a pilot curriculum audit that districts sometimes do, she thought a comparative study between 3-4 districts would give some base comparisons. AOE would still contract that work out and suggested a $200K appropriation for that. Campion wants the districts chosen to be some that they have heard about, and which may be known to be struggling. Simmons offered to develop some language to get at that.