Fund schools on last year’s enrollment, VT Ed Secretary says

Also would drop five days of student instruction, require Australian ballot for all school voting

By Guy Page

August 28, 2020 – Vermont Secretary of Education Daniel French wants legislation this year funding school districts based on last year’s pre-pandemic enrollment, he said in an August 24 recommendation to the Legislature.

“Ensuring districts receive at least the same ADM count as last year would promote some measure of stability in the district budgeting process during the emergency period,” French wrote (see full text below).

The House Education and Ways & Means committees discussed addressing the financial implications of declining public school enrollment due to homeschooling, which is up an estimated 75% this year as parents withdraw children due (mostly) to Covid-19-related concerns. As of mid-July the total number of homeschooling applicants was 1600.

Private schools also report full enrollment and increased inquiries from Vermont parents. In general, Vermont private schools will follow the same health and safety protocols, but are likely to hold more in-person instruction and are not suffering from staffing shortages.

The exodus from the public schools to homeschooling and private schools is a particular problem for public school finances. State law at present allocates funding to school districts on an “Average Daily Membership (ADM).” Declining ADM means less money for a district, even while fixed costs remain and districts face added costs of adhering to Covid-19 guidelines. 

French also urged for the 2020-21 school year that the Legislature subtract five days of student instruction and add five days of teacher in-service, and require all school district voting to be held by Australian ballot. 

French’s proposal, meant to provide funding stability, would likely increase the size of “on paper” statewide enrollment for funding purposes. Districts with fewer students than last year would show flat enrollment, while districts with more students could still claim higher enrollment.

Overall, property tax rates would rise slightly in next year’s taxes, legislative analyst Mark Perrault told House committees today. Districts that benefit from the change would see lower rates, and districts that don’t would see slightly higher rates, he said.

“This…is really an effort in my mind to bring as much normalcy to the process of education as possible,” Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association told the committees. “We do know that homeschooling families are way up….some students won’t come because families have made other choices.” 80% of superintendents expressed concern about losing funding if the current ADM system is used, he said.

Why act now rather than in January? Enrollment changes may be more dramatic in rural school districts, Francis said. If action is postponed until January, budgeting for next year may be more difficult for rural districts that see a steep decline, he said. “You want to guard against dramatic effect, if people do more homeschooling, especially in the rural districts,” Francis said.

Homeschoolers may participate in some school activities, such as sports, and some classes. School districts are not obligated to provide special education to homeschoolers, the committees were told.

French’s letter, available on the House Education Committee website, appears below:

COVID-19 Near-Term Education Policy Proposals – Secretary of Education Dan French August 24, 2020

I have worked with my team to identify near-term education policy issues that have emerged as a result of our response to the COVID-19 emergency. Due to the urgency of the emergency response, I believe these proposals should be considered before the General Assembly adjourns. 

Reduce the Number of Student Days and Increase the Number of Teacher Days Statute (16 V.S.A. § 1071 ) establishes a minimum of 175 student days and 5 teacher in-service days. For the 2020-2021 school year, an adjustment to these minimums would be enacted so there would be a minimum of 170 student days and 10 teacher in-service days. Rationale: Districts need additional planning time with their teachers to make preparations to implement hybrid learning and the required health guidance for in-person instruction. 

Adjustment to Average Daily Membership (ADM) Statute (16 V.S.A. § 4010) requires the Secretary of Education to determine the ADM of each school district for the current school year. This language would be modified for the 2020-2021 school year to require the Secretary to determine the ADM for each school district at a count no lesser than the district’s 2019-2020 ADM. Rationale: Ensuring districts receive at least the same ADM count as last year would promote some measure of stability in the district budgeting process during the emergency period. Allowing ADM to be greater than last year’s number will address the concern in some districts where the number of new pupils has increased significantly. 

Enact a Waiver of the Online Teaching Endorsement Regulations pertaining to teacher licensure are controlled by the Standards Board for Professional Educators (SBPE) as per 16 V.S.A. § 1694 which describes the powers and duties of the SBPE. The powers and duties of the SBPE would be amended so that during the 2021-2022 school year, no teacher shall be required to hold an endorsement for online teaching in order to teach online or implement remote learning. Rationale: Districts need predictability now in the status of this requirement to plan for the coming year. 

Require the Use of Australian Ballot for School District Meetings Under current statutory language (town school district – 17 V.S.A. § 2680 or union school district –16 V.S.A. § 711e), the electorate establishes the voting methodology to be used at district meetings. The statutory language would be modified to require all school district meetings held during the 2020-2021 school year to be conducted through the use of Australian ballot. Rationale: COVID-19 may cause restrictions for voter access to district meetings conducted through a floor vote, and the same restrictions will make it difficult for voters to hold special meetings in advance of district annual meetings to authorize the use of Australian Ballot.

VT Watercooler Comment of the Day:

SANDERS CALL TRUMP THREAT TO DEMOCRACY – “Thanks for your comments… another of your strong contributions over the years… wait, what contributions…sure would like to see a list of the bills proposed/passed! By the way, rather than expending energy taking cheap shots at people you might want to save it and try working on your abysmal house attendance record … after all you do have responsibilities as a representative of the people!”

Make your comments by going to www.vtwatercooler.com:

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