Lawmakers Study State’s ‘Brain Drain’
Legislators in Vermont shoved two contentious education issues to the back burner in a session dominated by concern over rising health-care costs. The lawmakers also tweaked the state’s school finance law, as they have done almost every year since it was passed in 1997.
And with revenues up, they provided just over $1 billion in basic state aid to school districts for fiscal 2007, a 5.4 percent increase over the fiscal year that ended in June.
Lawmakers also decided not to tackle a measure that would have set funding guarantees for public prekindergarten explicitly into law. The bill would also have encouraged districts to start or broaden preschool programs. Instead, the legislature passed a measure that calls for a special committee to study the idea, which has sparked debate for more than a year.
Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, allowed the bill to become law without his signature, saying that he did not favor preschool expansion. “The burden on Vermonters who pay the property tax is unsustainable,” he wrote in an explanation. “I don’t think adding two grades to the public education system is the way to go.”
The legislature, both of whose chambers are dominated by Democrats, also set up a commission to study ways to keep young Vermonters in the state after they complete their post-secondary education. Mr. Douglas, who is seeking re-election, had proposed stemming the brain drain by trading higher education scholarships for years of residence. Lawmakers instead put $5 million into a new scholarship fund.
Continuing to reshape how the state pays for its schools, lawmakers simplified a system for making income-sensitive adjustments to the state property tax. They also streamlined and increased the independence of the board that oversees educator licensing and discipline in cases of alleged misconduct. “We were thrilled about it because this clearly establishes the profession’s role in watching over itself,” said Angelo J. Dorta, the president of Vermont-NEA.
Vol. 26, Issue 03, Page 28