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Legislative Weekly 2/14/20

Dear Readers,

Happy Valentines Day! There is a lot of red and pink on display in the Statehouse today, and we also have lots of young people in the building. Newly minted Eagle Scouts were honored for their achievement, and the Youth Lobby is in the building providing testimony to committees regarding climate legislation, including H. 688, the Global Warming Solutions Act. The Youth Lobby is backing the bill as an important component of any plan to mitigate climate change. This statewide group of high school and college students is making a real impact in Montpelier this year and I applaud their energy and courage! Finally, the first group of Legislative Pages graduated today. This is always a moving and inspiring ceremony and a reminder of how many leaders in our Green Mountain State have started their public service as pages in this building. All in all, the morning was a welcome reminder of the impressive and inspiring work being done every day in Vermont by young people. 

And speaking of the youth... yesterday in the Education Committee we heard from students participating in after school programs throughout the state. The great importance of after school programming in providing a safe third space, as well as access to extended learning programs (ELP) was highlighted in this testimony. I was impressed by the poise and eloquence of both the participants and the providers of these programs. Governor Scott has prioritized after school funding in his 2020 budget address, and has proposed that some state funding might be dedicated to these programs from (anticipated) cannabis revenues. Yesterday's testimony provided a great opportunity to hear how these funds would be used on the ground around Vermont. 

And regarding even younger children in Vermont, our House Education Committee continues to work on a bill that would revise Act 166 of 2014, the "Universal Pre-K" bill. It seems likely that our committee will vote out a bill next week so I wanted to take some time in this week's newsletter to address some concerns I have with this bill. Many of the changes in the latest draft of the bill address the oversight of the UPK system as it exists now. Because this program often consists of a payment going from a publicly funded school to a private pre-K provider (either a center-based program or an in home program) there is regulatory control from both the Agency of Human Services and the Agency of Education. Our bill would change the system from one of joint oversight to bifurcated oversight with joint rule making. I don't have an issue with this approach, since we have heard about challenges surrounding duplicative regulation in some instances. For example, licensed teachers working in private programs are subject to separate fingerprinting from both Agencies, and this factor alone causes delays in teachers being brought onboard. 

However, there is another provision of the draft bill that I cannot support: That is the new requirement that all direct instruction in private programs be performed by licensed teachers. The current practice is that a licensed teacher must be associated with these high-quality private programs, but that they can play an oversight and coaching role and aren't required to provide all the direct instruction themselves. While I would love to have licensed teachers playing an even greater role in private centers, we are facing shortages in the workforce and there are fundamental budgetary constraints in the private sector. Increased costs would ultimately be borne by parents. Additionally, if these centers were to stop offering UPK programming,  I don't have confidence that public school budgets could provide pre-K programming on their own. Though the current mixed delivery system (public and private) in pre-K is messy and imperfect, I believe it is delivering value to private centers, public schools and families. We shouldn't risk the collapse of this win-win-win without further study. 

Coming up next week:

Look out for veto override attempts in the House... The Senate had a successful override of the Governor's veto of the minimum wage bill yesterday and I believe the House will attempt its own override on S. 23 next Wednesday. Additionally, the Senate will be voting soon on whether to override vetoes on the medical monitoring bill and last year's gun violence prevention bill. Stay tuned!