Some Act 46 districts given reprieve

BRISTOL — In addition to talk of a plastic ban before the Legislature, lawmakers and constituents at Monday’s Legislative Breakfast at the Bristol American Legion discussed education governance consolidation and school construction aid, early childcare services, and promoting greater use of electric vehicles.
Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, said around 50 school districts have yet to complete school governance merger plans, which are due by July 1 as required by Act 46. Approximately 35 of those districts have brought suit against the Vermont education officials arguing they should be able to remain independent, Hardy noted.
The House last week passed bill H.39 — successfully amended by Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall — that would extend, for some districts, the merger deadline to July 1, 2020.
By that time, the courts will likely have weighed in on the Act 46 lawsuit, lawmakers noted. A preliminary ruling could be issued by the courts as soon as Feb. 15, according to Hardy.
“I strongly encourage the Legislature to let the court process play out,” said Dave Sharpe, a former Democratic state representative from Bristol.
H.39 has not made its way to the Senate Education Committee, of which Hardy is a member.
All Addison County communities except Orwell have completed Act 46 mergers. A vote held last November will result in Orwell joining the Slate Valley Modified Union School District.
Hardy added a House bill is in the works that would call for the state to resume, at least on a limited basis, construction aid for school improvement projects. This could provide a boost to a Mount Abraham Union High School renovation bond that has failed three times at the polls.
Early childcare services. Lawmakers identified a couple of new bills aimed at boosting early childhood programs and their clients.
H.122 proposes to reduce the qualifying federal poverty level percentage at which families become eligible for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program. It proposes to use the resulting savings to increase the subsidy amount received by the remaining eligible families.
H.194 proposes to expand the population served by the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, enhance the subsidy size, and increase the rate upon which reimbursements to early learning professionals are based. It also proposes to implement a student loan repayment program for early learning professionals and expand an existing scholarship to individuals seeking a degree in early childhood education or early childhood special education. It would establish a refundable tax credit for early learning professionals and for employers investing in child care.
Boosting electric vehicles. Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, said some lawmakers are endorsing the idea of using some of the state’s Volkswagen settlement money to beef up Vermont’s electric vehicle infrastructure, including charging stations.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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