Voluntary school consolidation bill dies in House

Voluntary school consolidation bill dies in House

A much-amended education governance bill did not survive the clock Saturday in Montpelier.

After H.876 made it through the Senate, a majority of House members voted not to suspend procedural rules to take up the legislation in time for the evening’s scheduled adjournment.

Any similar effort to introduce school governance reforms will have to start fresh during the next legislative session, under a new lineup of lawmakers who win office in the fall.

The governance reform initiative — a response to continued increases in education property tax rates — gained momentum after Town Meeting Day, when 36 school districts rejected proposed budgets.

House members, reasoning that consolidation would make education more efficient, voted to merge Vermont’s 270-plus school district boards into roughly 50 new supervisory district boards over six years.

It was a no-go in the Senate, where lawmakers instead tacked a much diluted, voluntary consolidation plan onto the annual bill that carries miscellaneous changes to education laws.

The process took longer than the session’s stated deadline allowed, however. And there wasn’t enough support in the House — among any party — to push it through.

Sensing the legislation might not make it, Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, on Friday asked the budget committee of conference to include a couple other education segments from the miscellaneous education bill in the budget.

They agreed to appropriate $50,000 of established Next Generation funds to help low-income students enrolled in dual enrollment programs. Kitchel said many students are discouraged from pursuing the dual enrollment opportunity because they can’t afford the text books, lab fees or transportation to get to college classes.

The special fund is designed to help with those ancillary costs. It is available only on first-come, first-served basis until the money is gone. The Vermont Student Assistance Corp. will establish criteria for participation.

VSAC is also authorized through the budget to spend $100,000 to develop an “aspirational pilot initiative” at one or more high schools.

Kitchel described the target schools as those where a small percentage of graduates pursue higher education and where few parents of students have experience with higher education. The program will work with students to build and guide higher ed aspirations.

Hilary Niles

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