This is from the April 2, 2022, update from the Vermont Independent Schools Association.
Universal School Breakfast Could Cost $6 to $10 Million Annually
A bill to require all Vermont public schools to provide free breakfasts to all students likely would put a $6 to $10 million burden on the Education Fund, according to a fiscal note from the Joint Fiscal Office, presented this week to the House Education Committee. The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year, establishes a Task Force on Universal School Lunch to make recommendations on how to expand school lunch coverage by the 2026-27 school year.
The note also said “Currently about 30% of Vermont students attend a public school that offers breakfast through United States Department of Agriculture programs.”
VISA will follow this bill, because public school requirements often are later proposed to become approved independent school requirements.
House Ed Considers PCB & Radon Testing Deadline Changes
Draft PCB Testing Language for inclusion in the Miscellaneous Education bill was reviewed in the House Education Committee this week. The language extends the testing deadline by two years to 2026. It also would extend the deadline for the comprehensive public school facilities assessment report due from the AOE from October, 2022 to 2023 and include a PCB testing and remediation plan and schedule and include recommendations for funding remediation.
Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Walke testified that waiting for the comprehensive report in 2023 would be problematic for the remediation funding considering that they are ready to move forward with testing high priority schools in late spring and summer. If those schools require remediation, it would add extra stress to the system if there were not a remediation funding plan already in place.
If the planning and scheduling provisions are not a required part of the facilities report as in the draft language, Committee chair Rep. Kate Webb D-Shelburne) made clear that in order to justify a two-year delay to testing, the agencies would need to lay out those factors thoroughly for the legislature. Walke said they were prepared to do so.
An extension to the radon testing requirement until 2026 also is included in the draft language.
Cloud Tax Is Back on the Table
Two proposals have brought the prospect of a cloud tax back into legislative conversation. The Child Tax Credit, which would reduce revenue by $48 million, and Universal School Meals, which would need at least an $8 million appropriation, have both led to the House and Senate considering a cloud tax. A cloud tax proposal approved by the House last year as part of S.53 would remove a tax exemption on software as a service and would create additional taxes on platform and infrastructure as a service. According to a Vermont Chamber of Commerce analysis, if passed into law consumers and nearly all of Vermont’s businesses using cloud-based services would see considerable cost increases.
Health Insurance Cost Pressures Rising
Pressures on the health care system will likely result in higher insurance premiums as the pandemic continues. This was on display this week as three hospitals asked the Green Mountain Care Board for a rare mid-year rate increase. During the process, businesses expressed concern that they could not afford an unplanned insurance premium hike while they continue to feel the impact of workforce short-ages, supply chain disruptions and rising inflation.
Meanwhile, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont offered a proposal that could benefit individuals and small businesses purchasing health care in the Exchange. Currently those markets are set to revert to the pre-2022 configuration which would continue the long-time practice of having businesses subsidize the indi-viduals, increasing premiums for employees to reduce premiums for individuals purchasing their own insurance. Last year the Legislature approved a one-time reprieve due to federal subsidies that allowed the unmerging of these markets without negatively impacting individuals and simultaneously saving small businesses $17.7 million. The hope is that the federal government will continue those subsidies, but that has yet to happened, which means the rates for small businesses for 2023 could increase again.
The BCBS-VT proposal could keep the markets permanently unmerged, mostly impacting the individuals in that pool with incomes above $159,000. There would be some impact on other individuals, but the Legislature could choose to spend $1.9 million to mitigate it. This change would result in saving busi-nessses in this market from feeling the return of the $17.7 million cost-shift. This important effort is especially timely as provider rates are likely to increase, whether that is mid-year as currently under discussion by the Green Mountain Care Board, or as they review next year’s budgets.