Ever the optimist, I am pleased to report that for the first time in a very long time, there seems to be some acknowledgement on the part of some Vermont legislators that, in fact, our education funding system is broken. 

 

As most in our region know, this is a tune I have been singing since I arrived in the House a decade after Act 60 went into law.  Unfortunately, though, it has been a lonely road – even as I unveiled various reform proposals through the years.  Now, however, it seems as though the looming 9.4 cent increase in the statewide property tax rate have have lit a fire under other legislators, as well.

 

 

Indeed, when it comes to meaningful education funding reform, my optimism in the past has been misplaced.  Rather than addressing the underlying issue of the funding system – and reconnecting Vermont voters to the budgets they vote on and the money spent – the legislature has found it satisfactory to sit on the sidelines and place the blame at the foot of our school boards and local voters.  And, when we do claim to have a solution to our ever-increasing property taxes, it inevitably wrests more and more control from local districts and voters, and puts it in the hands of the state (Act 46).

 

But, the attention being paid to the issue in just the first few weeks of this session by the House Ways and Means Committee has me smiling.  From looking in depth again at the funding system in place and analyzing the impact it has had on taxes, to hearing from many advocates for meaningful, albeit varied, change, the committee seems to be serious about reform this year.

 

Rest assured, I will continue to keep a close eye on the progress, and will continue to advocate for a system that reconnect Vermont voters to the budgets voted upon and the money spent.  After all, that is the only way we are going to be able to bring sustainability to education spending, and provide long-term property tax relief to Vermont families and businesses.

 

Meanwhile, in the committee on which I serve, one of my other priorities – providing free tuition to members of the Vermont National Guard – is also progressing.   You might recall that last year, our committee unanimously supported this tuition benefit that would kick in after any GI Bill benefits have already been exhausted.  It was clear to us that, not only is this an important economic investment to support our National Guard members and their families, but it is absolutely critical to ensure our recruiting needs are met.  As the only state in the area without these kinds of benefits, we are at a significant disadvantage.  Simply put, our recruiting is currently not keeping up with the needs of the Guard.  In fact, the goal is to recruit 300 Non-Prior-Service recruits per year. Yet in 2013, it was 248; in 2014 it was 219; in 2015 it was 190 and in 2016 it was 173.  This tool will, undoubtedly, turn this trend around.

 

Finally, by the time this op-ed is printed, Governor Phil Scott will have presented his Fiscal Year 2019 Budget.  I am hopeful it builds upon last year’s budget in terms of keeping spending in line with available revenues – without relying on any new or increased taxes and fees.  In addition, I am looking forward to hearing his specific proposals for growing our economy and meaningfully addressing our demographic challenges.

 

Of course, these are just a few of the issues on which we are focusing right now.  Please be in touch if you are interested in receiving my more comprehensive, regular email newsletters.  Finally, please feel free contact me with any questions or concerns as things progress.  I can be reached at 253-9314 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..