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Vermont House leaders advocate for passage of education bill

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC
School bus

Vermont legislators are on the verge of passing a bill that sets property tax rates in a move that is drawing criticism by the Republican governor. But leaders of the Democratically-controlled legislature countered with their plans for the future of education in the state.

Before the full House chamber takes up the bill this week, Speaker Jill Krowinski, a Democrat, gathered key committee chairs and advocates, saying there must be a course correction in the state’s public education system, and the bill moves towards that vision. A key component of the bill, Krowinski said, is the creation of a commission.

“We have created the Commission on the Future of Public Education which will focus on the successes of Vermont’s children in a rapidly changing world as well as Vermont’s economic and social prosperity,” Krowinski said. “The commission will consider a wide range of ideas and issues such as improved integration of our mental health system with schools and most importantly the commission will make recommendations for the best way to provide a sustainable, equitable and enriching public education for all Vermont kids.”

During his last weekly briefing, Governor Phil Scott was critical about the trajectory of bill H.887 and its reliance on reviewing the situation.

“Typical legislative reaction: we’re going to study it.” Scott said. “Meanwhile Vermonters are going to be impacted by up to a 20 percent increase in their property taxes that they can’t afford. So I would advocate that we do something now, not study this. Let’s do something to fix it.”

Speaker Krowinski countered Scott’s criticism.

“Before we make any decisions more time is needed to look at the system as a whole and ensure that our kids are getting the best education possible,” retorted Krowinski. “This plan before us will make it possible to truly reimagine the future of education in Vermont.”

Vermont Superintendents Association Executive Director Jeffrey Francis says the bill and its commission addresses root problems that have led to the state’s high property taxes.

“If you pass property tax relief and you don’t address the underlying causes of the increase in costs then we’re going to be back here next year and the year after and the year after that,” said Francis. “And for a state that wants to have a world class education system and really be attractive to families you can’t have communities, thirty across the state where school districts are defeated and a healthy amount of funds to run the system and make tough decisions about how you’re going to organize the system in a way that it’s more affordable. We don’t have that right now.”

The House voted 94 to 38 Tuesday afternoon to approve a third reading of the bill.

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