COVID-19, Events, Issues, Legislation/Bills

Late Summer 2021 – Legislative Work & COVID

Summer is slowly coming to a close with school starting, apple orchards opening, leaves showing a bit of color, and a slight briskness in the morning air. Although the 2021 session ended in May, legislative work has continued throughout the summer. Here’s the latest news regarding this legislative work and an update on the COVID situation, which unfortunately has also continued.

Off-Session Legislative Work
As we prepare for the next session, in which we’ll make decisions about how to spend another significant amount of federal funding, legislative leaders are reaching out to constituents and communities in a series of Investing in Vermont’s Future: Community Conversations. Please join me, Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and other local legislators for the Addison Conversation next Thursday, September 9, 5:30-6:30pm via Zoom. Please register to participate here. I hope to see you there!

I am part of several committees working during the off-session, including co-chair of a task force charged with making recommendations for updating our school funding formula. Although Vermont has one of the most equitable school funding formulas in the country, thanks to the 1997 VT Supreme Court case Brigham v. State and ensuing Acts 60 and 68 which equalized the ability of school districts to raise funding despite unequal property values, it’s important that we continue to examine the funding formula as the school population shifts and diversifies and as school governance and organization change.

In early 2020, a Pupil Weighting Factors Report was released, making recommendations for changes in how the funding formula counts students in poverty, English language learners, and students in very small and remote school districts. The Task Force is taking a comprehensive look at these and other facets of Vermont’s school funding formula, and will recommend changes that the full legislature will consider next session. You can follow along with our work on the Task Force website, watch our live-streamed meetings, or testify at one of our two upcoming public hearings on September 8 or October 20. It’s fun to be working on school finance issues again!

COVID Update
Although Vermont leads the country in vaccinations, we have not been spared by the Delta variant, which infected more Vermonters in August than in any month since April and caused more deaths than in any month since January. It’s really important to note that while some vaccinated people are contracting COVID, the majority of cases, especially those that lead to hospitalization and death, are concentrated among unvaccinated people. So, if you or your children over age 12 remain unvaccinated, I strongly urge you to get vaccinated. The vaccines are safe and effective, and widely available for free in Vermont. You can find a vaccination site near you, as well as lots of information about the vaccine, on the Department of Health website. If you have health questions or concerns, please discuss them with your own doctor or child’s pediatrician.

In addition, the CDC recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask while indoors in public places, including grocery stores, in areas where there is substantial or high spread of COVID-19. All of Vermont, except Addison County, currently has high spread, and Addison County has substantial spread of COVID. Many businesses and places of employment also have mask mandates for employees and customers or clients. So, to keep everyone safe, please mask up when in indoor public spaces until cases subside.

With the recent surge in cases, it has unfortunately been a stressful start to the school year, and some schools in the state have already had to temporarily close due to COVID cases. With most kids re-adjusting to being back at school in-person everyday for the first time since March 2020 and children under age 12 not yet eligible for vaccines, there has been a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I know everyone was hoping that this year would be a mostly “normal” school year, but the pandemic had different plans. To make matters worse, the Governor and his team have failed to issue strong, statewide health protocols to keep our schools and childcare programs safe. Last month, they released only a brief memo outlining vague recommendations for schools, leaving the specifics and tough decisions to local education leaders.

Left without the type of statewide public health leadership we had last school year, most Addison County schools and childcare centers have stepped up to develop solid protocols, such as these for the Addison Central School District. They have relied on the more comprehensive guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control both of which recommend universal masking for all schools and childcare centers at this time. It should also be noted that federal rules require that everyone wear a mask while on a school bus. I am grateful to the superintendents, principals, school nurses, and childcare leaders who are again beginning a school year during a pandemic and doing everything they can to keep children safe and healthy.

Middlebury College students also return next week, with classes starting on September 13. The College has outlined some essential health and safety measures, including requiring vaccinations for all students, staff, and faculty, as well as indoor masking for now. I hope they’ll also add more comprehensive testing protocols, especially when students arrive on campus. I know we’re all exhausted by the pandemic, but the only way we’ll get through it is to get vaccinated, mask-up inside, wash hands, and stay home and get tested if you feel ill or may have been exposed to the virus.

The national and international news of late has been difficult: the surging pandemic; climate change disasters throughout the country; the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan; and the harsh infringement of women’s reproductive rights in Texas have all gotten me down. I am tired, and I am also determined to ensure we make progress on improving health care, climate justice and resiliency, and human rights here in Vermont. There is so much work to do.

If the news or anything else is making you depressed, you should know that you are not alone. There are people who can help. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. You can text “VT” to 741741 at any time for any type of crisis (find out more here). For parents, students, and teachers starting a difficult school year, find out about mental health school supplies here. The world can feel overwhelming; we all need help sometimes.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to my constituents in Granville who have worked for over a decade to renovate the historic Corner School and create a community resource center in the town. Last month, at a fun and well-attended ceremony, they unveiled Vermont’s 280th historic marker in front of the school. I was honored to be there to help the community celebrate (see photo above).