Editor’s note: Roll Call is published by the Ethan Allen Institute.
H.106, an act relating to equitable access to a high-quality education through community schools, passed in the state Senate on May 14, 2021, by a vote of 22-6.
The purpose of the bill is to reduce inequitable education and child poverty by reshaping some public schools into “community centers” which offer “integrated” services beyond a typical K-12 education.
Analysis: H.106 authorizes the Department of Education to give grants to low-income school districts for transforming their schools into social service centers, which also happen to be a place where students learn. Schools will apply for grants and hire “Coordinators” who would identify students in need of extra services and ensure they that receive those services.
$3.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds will be allocated over 3 years, until 2024. About 10 schools a year will be chosen each year, receiving up to $110,000 each. Some schools may share Coordinators. Schools which have a high percentage of students getting free and reduced-price lunches are more likely to quality. For a community school to continue to receive grants each year, they must show a dedication to “the Five Pillars of a Community School”:
- Integrated Student Supports: Coordinators can choose to include dental and health services, mental health counselors, pre-K programs, after-school and summer programs and family social services in their school.
- Expanded and Enriched Learning Time: schools will offer students assistance before and after regular school hours, and on weekends. They would also offer students greater opportunities in subjects like drama, art, music, writing and science.
- Active Family and Community Engagement: Coordinators encourage parents to participate in their child’s learning at school.
- Collaborative Leadership and Practices: Coordinators encourage the sharing of expertise and responsibilities between students, teachers, school administrators, nonteaching staff, union leaders, parents and nonprofits.
- Safe, Inclusive and Equitable Learning Environments: this was not explained in testimony.
Those voting YES believe low-income children living in rural areas do not have adequate access to medical care, dental care, housing or nutritious food. A lack of any of these can hamper a child’s capacity to learn, making it the obligation of the Legislature to provide them what civil society has not. They believe community schools are a successful model that has proven successful in Vermont, citing the Molly Stark School in Bennington. The Coordinator position would partially remove the social services burden that has been grown on teachers and principals since Covid-19 began. Legislators are hopeful schools can use “grant writing” after 2024 to internally fund the Coordinator position, without raising taxes.
Those voting NO believe using one-time federal money to create a program with no internal funding source is fiscally irresponsible. No future funding source after 2024 is identified. At the end of 3 years, legislators will choose between laying off employees and removing services from students. Or raising taxes to pay for the new program. Meaning higher taxes is more likely. Additionally, these grants discriminate against students who attend private or charter schools, since those schools will not be eligible to use the grants to help children.
As Recorded in the Senate Journal, Friday, May 14, 2021: “Thereupon, the bill was read the second time by title only pursuant to Rule 43, the proposal of amendment was agreed to, and third reading of the bill was ordered on a roll call. Yeas 22, Nays 6” (Read the Journal, p. 977-990).
View the floor debate on YouTube.
How They Voted
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – YES
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – YES
Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia) – NO
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – YES
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – NO
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – YES
Thomas Chittenden (D-Chittenden) – YES
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – YES
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – NO
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – YES
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – YES
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – YES
Russ Ingalls (R-Essex-Orleans) – NO
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – YES
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – YES
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – YES
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – YES
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – YES
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – YES
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – NO
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – YES
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – ABSENT
Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) – YES
Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden) – YES
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – ABSENT
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – YES
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – YES
Joshua Terenzini (R-Rutland) – NO
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – YES
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – YES