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Notes from Seat 146: January 2024 Legislative Update



The 2024 legislative session began on January 3 and if the first few weeks are any indication, it stands to be a productive and dynamic one. We are thrilled to once again have a Williston eighth grader, Avery Howe, donning the classic green jacket as a legislative page and joining us in the State House for the first six weeks of the session. 


The legislature worked diligently over the past three years to maximize federal funds coming into the state to support historic investments in workforce, economic development, housing, broadband, and climate action but many of these investments will take time to come to fruition. This session, we face new challenges as federal pandemic spending winds down while complex needs persist across the state. We must also stay focused on helping the communities that faced devastating floods in July and December.


The first portion of the session is typically devoted almost exclusively to working in our committees. Angela serves on the House Judiciary Committee and was honored to present the first bill of the session, H. 27, on the House floor. This legislation adds “coercive controlling behavior” to the definition of abuse for the purpose of obtaining a relief from abuse order. This bill does not change anything in the criminal statute, but does expand the circle of protection provided to victims of domestic violence (80% of whom are women) by recognizing the types of behaviors that are known precursors to physical abuse, and are often just as damaging on their own. 


Recent state data shows that 40% of all calls to law enforcement for violent crimes are related to domestic violence, making H.27 an important tool in the quest for improved public safety. 


Erin serves as Vice Chair of the House Committee on Education, using her experience as a public school teacher of 18 years to inform her unwavering commitment to public education. The education community remains nearly unanimous in their list of the greatest needs in our schools: teacher workforce, school facilities, and mental health support for students and staff. 


The work of the Education Committee is shaped by an inherent tension in our system (a tension that may be reaching a breaking point): local school districts retain most authority over schools, yet we have a statewide education fund.


We know the tax implications of our statewide education fund are top of mind for many and we share concerns about high property tax bills. Vermont’s education funding formula is unique and complex. Each school district’s education spending is determined at a local level but our resources are pooled in the statewide education fund, as a result of a 1997 Vermont Supreme Court decision that found our state constitution requires “substantially equal educational opportunity to all students.” Taxes must be levied in order to raise the funds for all approved school budgets across the state. 


The estimated 18% property tax increase (on households that are not income-sensitized) is not a direct result of actual spending in our district. This is part of what makes it so difficult to understand both local budgets and statewide education funding. Our school district, along with many others throughout the state, is utilizing an incentive built into Act 127 (the Equitable School Funding Law passed in 2022) to cap our tax rate increase at 5% before the addition of the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA). 


The CLA is intended to adjust the tax rate to correct for differences between the assessed value of properties and their current fair market value.Williston property values have not been reassessed since the pandemic-era property value spike so there is a sizable difference between the assessed value and market value of properties; the Selectboard has already voted to appeal the CLA (currently set at 69%). 


Pressures on education spending are particularly intense this year and do not fit neatly into a headline. Many challenges are all coming to a head at the same time: 



  • Increased social service spending in schools: Districts spent much of the federal pandemic-era funds on behavior interventionists and additional mental health supports. Increased student needs continue to exist regardless of federal funds. By chronically underfunding the state mental health system and human services, Governor Scott has driven a tremendous transfer of cost to the Education Fund from the state social services budget and schools are compelled to pick up the tab


  • Unfunded facilities needs: The state has gone since 2007 without school construction aid and we are currently the only state in New England without a statewide approach. Districts across the state face hundreds of millions of dollars of deferred investments in infrastructure, some of which can no longer wait to be addressed.



All of these compounding challenges underscore a message repeated in testimony and other conversations by more than 20 superintendents recently: Vermont needs a statewide vision for education, and leadership to execute that vision. We have to have difficult conversations about right-sizing our system for the students we serve and the future they are preparing for; we appreciate that CVSD did the hard work of consolidating several years ago. 


Balancing the needs of our children and the needs of taxpayers is a shared responsibility between districts, the administration, and the legislature. Every child deserves equitable opportunities, no matter where they live or who their parents are. Schools cannot solve the growing inequality in our society, but they are on the front lines of the human costs of disparities in opportunity and wellbeing.


It continues to be an honor to serve as your State Representatives and our community’s voices in Montpelier. As members of a citizen legislature that convenes from January to May (without any staff), we do our best to understand complex issues and make policy accordingly. Your input helps! We look forward to hosting a community conversation in late February. Please email us at ebrady@leg.state.vt.us and aarsenault@leg.state.vt.us with your questions, concerns, or ideas anytime.


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