2020 Vision: special ed, pre-K, future of State Board of Education on school menu

Latest in a series about the people and priorities of the 2020 Vermont Legislature.

By Guy Page

December 31, 2019 – House Education Committee Chair Kate Webb (D-Shelburne) a month ago emailed the Vermont Daily Chronicle a preliminary bullet list of 2020 committee priorities. Chair Webb’s list appears below in italics. Details that follow are by author.  

“Follow up on Act 173 and weighting study.” Act 173 is a special education funding and delivery overhaul approved in 2018. Implementation has taken longer than expected. “Weighting” refers to how the State “weighs” pupils for tax calculation purposes. A state study released this fall addresses these issues. The committee will review.

“Universal Pre-K.” Act 166 requires universal pre-kindergarten education. Legislation before the House would enhance standards for pre-K teachers and staff. Supporters say it would improve student outcomes. Opponents say it would cost taxpayers more money and drive some small, home-run preschools out of business.  

“Role of the State Board of Education.” Critics of forced school mergers ordered by this appointed board were pleased when a legislative advisory board this fall recommended the board be eliminated. The Vermont Department of Education says it can do everything the Board does. Likely outcome: the Legislature allows the board to survive, but keeps it on a shorter leash, especially re: mergers.  

“Update on status of lead testing in schools and child care facilities.” Act 66, passed this year, requires all schools to test for lead in drinking water. The Education Committee wants to know how well it’s working.

“Oversight as well as collaborative work with the Agency of Education.” Every state agency is overseen by at least one legislative committee. Education Committee members are:

  • Chair Kathryn Webb. Former special ed case manager and speech pathologist, UVM clinical professor.
  • Vice-Chair Lawrence Cupoli (R-Rutland). US Air Force veteran, car salesman, member Vermont Child Poverty Council.
  • Ranking Member Peter Conlon (D-Cornwall). Former Peace Corps volunteer and editor of Addison Independent. Member of new Addison unified school board, former president of Friends of Cornwall School.
  •  Sarah “Sarita” Austin (D-Colchester). Retired Chittenden County teacher, school counselor, school board member.
  • Lynn Batchelor (R-Derby Line). Former office manager for VNA, was employed by VT Dept. of Corrections for 10 years.
  • Rep. Caleb Elder (D-Starksboro). Bristol native, member Mt. Abraham unified school district board. Awesome fiddle player.
  • Dylan Giambatista (D-Essex Junction). Former chief of staff for House Speaker Shap Smith. Member Vermont State College Board of Trustees.
  • Clerk Kathleen James (D-Manchester). Skiing publication editor, historian. Has served on Manchester school boards.
  • Philip Jay Hooper (D-Randolph) – Jump-started the Millenial Caucus of 19 young Vermont legislators.
  • Christopher Mattos (R-Milton) – lifelong Milton resident. Real estate agent.
  • Casey Toof (R-St. Albans) – Received degree in education from Castleton University. Youth, high school sports coach. Operates media consulting firm.