Education

Education and education tax reporting.

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Holcombe to stay at Agency of Education

Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe (Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday that he is re-appointing Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, who was previously appointed by former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. Holcombe is the final cabinet-level appointment for Scott, who took office on Jan. 5. Scott had asked the State Board of Education to launch a search for an education secretary as part of the transition from the Shumlin administration to the Scott administration. The board provided the governor with three recommendations, including Holcombe, who was first appointed by Shumlin in January 2014. Continue Reading →

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House rejects key plank in governor’s budget

PPoirier

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s budget proposal suffered a potentially fatal blow Friday as the House voted to reject his plan to move school budget votes to May 23. The House voted on an amendment to an underlying education bill from the Senate. It called for moving local school budget votes from Town Meeting Day in March to May 23, as Scott called for in his budget address last month. Scott was looking to provide more time for local school districts to find a way to level fund 2018 fiscal year budgets at 2017 fiscal year levels, which he wants the Legislature to mandate. But the House voted 47 to 87, largely on party lines, against the amendment sponsored by Barre City independent Rep. Paul Poirier, who himself was against the idea. Continue Reading →

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Senate committee rejects Scott’s school budget mandate

Sen. Phil Baruth

MONTPELIER — The Senate Education committee has unanimously voted to oppose Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to mandate that all school budgets be leveled-funded next year — and that rejection has broad budget implications. That’s because the governor had hoped to deal with a budget gap in the state’s General Fund, in part, by transferring early education, higher education and teacher retirement programs over to the Education Fund. The roughly $50 million price tag for this transfer was to be offset by a plan to require that all local school budgets not grow at all next year. The governor’s proposal would also require all teachers to pay for 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Because many school boards are finalizing their budgets for next year, the governor proposed moving all local budget votes from Town Meeting Day in March to late May to give the boards more time to reduce their budgets. Senate Education chairman Phillip Baruth says the governor’s plan is unfair to local school boards. Continue Reading →

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Rutland Senate delegation introduces Scott education plan

Sen. Peg Flory

MONTPELIER — Rutland County’s three-person Senate delegation has introduced legislation that would codify into law the far-reaching education reforms Gov. Phil Scott proposed in his budget address Tuesday. The three Republican senators — Peg Flory, Kevin Mullin and Brian Collamore — were sought out by Scott ahead of his budget address, according to Flory. “Gov. Scott reached out to us … sometime last week and explained that he was going to be making a proposal that would need some legislation,” she said Wednesday. “So we had legislative counsel draft it and we agreed to sponsor it for him.”

Scott surprised many when he called Tuesday for lawmakers to pass legislation that would require teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care insurance premiums. That would put them on equal footing with state employees, and close to workers in the private sector. But health care costs are typically part of the collective bargaining process between local school boards and teachers’ unions. Continue Reading →

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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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