Equitable School Funding. Every child should have equal access to a high quality education. I led efforts to update Vermont’s complex school funding formula to make it more equitable and transparent. During the off-session, I co-chaired a task force charged with considering whether and how to implement recommendations from the 2019 Pupil Weighting Factors Report. I was the primary architect of bill S.287, now Act 127, which updates and expands how students are accounted for in the school funding formula, based on the cost of educating different types of students, including those living in poverty, English language learners, secondary students, and those in very rural or small schools. These changes will shift the ability of school districts to raise tax revenue based on the number of students they serve in each category. Overall, the goal of these changes, which will preserve local school budget decisions and be implemented in 2025, is to enhance both the financial equity of school funding and student educational outcomes in Vermont.
Student Mental Health Support. We are in the midst of a student mental health crisis. The isolation and anxiety of the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the social-emotional well-being of students. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee led efforts to ensure funding and support for both students and educators by expanding or creating evidence-based, trauma-informed programs and strategies in partnership with the Agency of Education, Department of Mental Health, local designated mental health agencies, schools, and after-school programs. This legislation, S.197, will ensure greater access to mental health and well-being services to youth throughout Vermont.
Universal School Meals. Eating together builds community and grows healthy kids. During the pandemic, the federal government has supported free breakfast and lunch for every student, but that ends in June 2022. Building on pre-COVID work that I did on the Agriculture Committee to bring more local foods to schools, this year we passed a bill, S.100, to provide universal school meals to all publicly-funded K-12 students in Vermont beginning next year. We appropriated surplus Education Fund monies to fund universal school meals for the upcoming school year while a permanent funding plan is developed.
Safe School Facilities. School buildings should be safe and healthy for students. Two years ago, the Burlington High School was forced to close due to high levels of a cancer-causing carcinogen called PCBs found throughout the building. Since then, students have been attending school in an old Macy’s department store. Last year, the Legislature required all schools to test buildings for these deadly chemicals. This session, I worked with colleagues to ensure we set aside $20 million in surplus Education Fund monies to assist school districts with assessment and remediation should these deadly PCBs be found. We must be prepared so schools will be safe and not have to close their doors again, especially so soon after the difficult pandemic closures.