Education

Education and education tax reporting.

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Merger of Johnson, Lyndon State Colleges approved

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Colleges System Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to merge Johnson and Lyndon State Colleges into a single institution with separate campuses. Thursday’s vote followed preliminary approval from the board in July. Officials say merging the two colleges will expand opportunities for students and improve finances within the state college system. “Unification will create new academic and experiential opportunities for students, a bigger and more diverse faculty environment, advantages for recruiting new students and a significantly strengthened financial foundation,” VSCS Chancellor Jeb Spaulding told the board. “They are pivotal institutions in their regions and they are beloved by their alumni, faculty, staff and current students. Continue Reading →

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Galbraith outlines free tuition plan at Vermont State Colleges

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith outlines his plan for free tuition at the Vermont State Colleges for Vermont students. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith released a plan Tuesday to cover the cost of a college education for Vermont students at state colleges by eliminating nearly $50 million in tax breaks and loopholes. Galbraith, a former diplomat and state senator from Windham County, revealed his plan outside of the Community College of Vermont Tuesday afternoon, declaring that “higher education should be a right, not a burden for young Vermonters.”

He said the plan would provide four years of free tuition at all of the Vermont State Colleges for all graduates of Vermont high schools who meet the academic requirements for admission. It would also provide free or reduced tuition at the University of Vermont for high school graduates who meet the income criteria to be eligible for Pell Grants. The total cost of providing free higher education is estimated to be $29 million, Galbraith said. The program would be paid for by eliminating tax breaks and raising the minimum wage, a key plank in Galbraith’s economic agenda. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers talk school choice and district mergers

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers and members of the public are calling for greater guarantees to preserve school choice. On Thursday, the House School Choice Caucus called for a clarification of Act 46 — the 2015 school district merger law — as it relates to towns that offer school choice. “In the long run, we’re seeing Act 46 create a lot of confusion and we’re here today to give a voice to that confusion,” said Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Irasburg. Unlike many caucuses, the House School Choice Caucus does not reflect a partisan divide based on political affiliation, but based on the size of the community, with nearly all of the caucus members hailing from small towns. “There’s a real need for leadership in directing our choice towns to keep this tradition and this very important issue with schools,” said Rep. Linda Martin, D-Wolcott. Continue Reading →

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House gives preliminary approval to property tax bill

MONTPELIER — The proposed property tax bill would see an increase in residential rates and a decrease in the commercial and nonresidential rate. On Tuesday, House lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would raise the average property tax rate by 0.2 cents, and would lower the commercial and nonresidential rate by 0.5 cents. While the commercial and nonresidential rate is the same for everyone, regardless of where they are located, the residential tax rate will vary from municipality to municipality. For the second year, property taxes — which fund the vast majority of the state’s Education Fund — are based on a formula that results in what’s referred to as a “yield amount.”

The yield amount is the amount of money that would result from a tax rate of $1 for every $100 of assessed value. On Tuesday, lawmakers approved a yield amount of $9,701. Continue Reading →

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Education officials call for study of state’s pre-K and dual enrollment programs

MONTPELIER — Education officials are calling for an examination of the state’s pre-K and dual enrollment programs so more low-income children can take advantage of them. The State Board of Education is asking lawmakers to look at the unintended consequences of programs that are intended to provide for greater educational equity, but are being utilized more frequently middle-class and affluent families than those living in poverty. William Mathis, chairman of the board’s Legislative Committee, made it clear the board supports the initiatives that are intended to expend pre-K education and allow high school students to take college courses, but is concerned the programs might not be reaching the students who need them most. “We strongly support both dual enrollment and preschool enrollment. These are some of the most important programs we have to promote equity,” Mathis said. Continue Reading →

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House convenes midnight session to address spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil early Saturday morning to approve a bill that softens the impact of school district spending thresholds. In the sort of move normally reserved for the final days of the legislative session in May, House members convened a special session shortly after midnight Saturday morning, after reaching a deadlock the day before on a bill that would raise school district spending thresholds and lower the tax penalties for exceeding them. It was more than one week ago when House lawmakers passed a bill that would raise every spending threshold — which vary from district to district — by 0.9 percent, and lower the tax penalty for exceeding them from 1 dollar for every dollar over the threshold to 25 cents for every dollar over. The thresholds themselves are a provision of Act 46, the school district merger bill passed by lawmakers in 2015, which seeks to create larger districts to both promote equity for students and contain costs. The thresholds were intended as a two-year stop-gap measure to give relief to property tax owners while the mergers take place. Continue Reading →

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Senate lawmakers address school district spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers are taking their own stab at revamping school district spending thresholds, setting up debate Friday on the House floor. With a voice vote, the Senate approved a proposal that would exempt school districts from spending thresholds if they are spending below the statewide per-pupil average for fiscal year 2017, and would repeal the thresholds altogether for 2018. The Senate proposal comes in response to action taken by House lawmakers Wednesday that would increase every district’s threshold by 0.9 percent and lower the penalty for exceeding the threshold from 1 dollar for every dollar over the threshold to 25 cents for every dollar over. The Senate proposal keeps the House plan to raise all thresholds by 0.9 percent, but raises the penalty to 40 cents for every dollar over the threshold, to make up for the districts who would be exempt from the thresholds because they are spending less than the statewide per-pupil average. The House proposal would bring in $1.8 million in penalty revenue; the Senate proposal would bring in $1.9 million. Continue Reading →

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House lawmakers approve change to school spending thresholds

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, chairman of the House Education Committee, speaks on the floor of the House on Wednesday about school district spending thresholds.

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given their approval to changes in school spending thresholds that are expected to both give local school boards some breathing room and raise property tax rates. For more than a month, House lawmakers have wrestled with the school spending thresholds imposed by Act 46 of 2015, which calls for the creation of larger school districts to both save money and improve educational opportunities for students. The thresholds themselves, which vary from district to district, were intended as a two-year stop-gap effort to offer property tax relief while districts made plans to merge. However, a number of factors, such as the 2016 roll out of universal Pre-K education and a projected 7.9-percent increase in health insurance costs found many districts struggling to meet those thresholds. Thursday afternoon, House lawmakers approved a bill that would raise every school district’s threshold by 0.9 percent, and reduces the financial penalties a school district would face for exceeding its threshold by 75 percent. Continue Reading →

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Education officials seek additional staff

(from left) State Board of Education members Krista Huling, William Mathis and Mark Perrin discuss the need for additional staff for both the board and the Agency of Education.

MONTPELIER — Education officials are calling on lawmakers to support the mandates they impose by adding additional staff to the Agency of Education and the State Board of Education. Members of the State Board of Education offered testimony before the House Education Committee on Monday calling for staff members to support the many educational initiatives imposed by the General Assembly, from school district mergers and universal Pre-K education to dual enrollment and personalized learning plans. “In our opinion, the Agency (of Education) is suffering with inadequate staff,” said Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education, who discussed the staff reductions the agency has faced during the past eight years. Since fiscal year 2008, the agency has lost 43 positions, falling from 213 to the current staffing level of 170. At the same time, 70 percent of agency staff are paid for with federal funds, which limits the scope of work they may perform, Morse said. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Replace the Education Funding Formula

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ermont’s property tax burden will continue to dominate conversation around the state, and in the State House, until the Legislature has the political will to address the problem in its entirety. That problem is composed of three primary parts: An inefficient education system built to serve tens-of-thousands more students than we have today, an outdated human service system that is failing families and children and shifting the burden on to schools, and a supercharged education funding formula created in Act 60, modified in Act 68 and further tweaked over the years that lacks real cost containment incentives. We simply cannot afford what we have and because we can’t afford to make improvements kids are getting short changed. Act 46, while imperfect and in need of improvement, jumpstarted the difficult but necessary discussion on school consolidation. Reforming our human service system from one that measures inputs (how many people we’re enrolling) to one that measures outputs (how many people we’re helping to achieve financial independence) is a complex discussion our Democrat colleagues have so far refused to have. Continue Reading →

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