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Legislative Report: Legislation and the end of the session

The 2016 session in the Education Committee was a productive one. We addressed two important issues by passing a Special Education Bill and an Education Property Tax Bill. Both bills received bipartisan support from the committee and the Legislature.
We worked to keep education taxes level from last year. To accomplish this we returned surplus revenue collected last year to taxpayers while local school districts worked to keep costs within the spending thresholds included in Act 46. The non-residential tax rate is the same as last year and, on average, the residential tax rates are the same.
On average across the state, education taxes paid will be the same as last year. Specifically, education taxes in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro are going down this year before the common level of appraisal (CLA) is applied. Only Bristol education taxes will go up, one penny, after the CLA is applied.
Also contained in the Education Property Tax Bill are two reports due from the Join Fiscal Office on how we might change Act 60/68 in a way that is more equitable and better reflects a fair tax system. There have been many concerns about how citizens are taxed for education purposes, both for its heavy reliance on property taxes and the distribution of equitable tax responsibility across the state and across school districts. Many unworkable ideas have been brought forward with little support. Finally, there are two proposals for our consideration that have good ideas and do not violate the Supreme Court ruling in the Brigham decision.
Our second bill is looking to revamp how we fund and deliver special education services. We learned from the study conducted by the Picus Co. that we spend about the right amount on regular education and spend too much on special education. Part of the problem is how we fund special education: by reimbursing school expenses, which leads to burdensome costly bureaucratic waste and employing less than best practices in the delivery of services. Consequently, we will be contracting with UVM to explore better ways to fund special education.
We also help school districts pay for the consulting services of District Management Council (DMC), which will help them employ best practices in delivering services. DMC has provided valuable help in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union (Champlain Valley Union) and the Franklin West Supervisory Union.
Ongoing this year are the many active study groups looking to move forward with larger, integrated preK-12 school districts envisioned in Act 46. We invested a little more money in the Agency of Education in order to allow them to assist districts in this effort. When Act 46 was first written we expected four or five districts to move forward under the provisions of the accelerated mergers. Instead, we already have nine districts that have voted to move forward and three or four more that are planning to vote before June 30.

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