Notes from Seat 146 (new session, new seat!): January 2023 Legislative Update
The 2023 legislative session has officially begun and once again, things are different than a year ago. For the first time since I was elected in 2020, we began fully in person with all of the traditional pomp and circumstance of the opening of a new biennium. It was exciting to feel so much hopeful energy in “the people’s house” and welcome so many freshman legislators (51), most notably my new seatmate for the CH-2 district, Representative Angela Arsenault!
The Legislature seems poised to address three of the largest obstacles for working families: childcare, paid family medical leave and housing. Committees are crafting proposals to implement the work of the Child Care Financial Study to expand childcare availability. Legislative Leadership is working to advance a paid family medical leave program. And both the House and Senate are identifying tens of millions of dollars in new workforce housing funding and regulatory reforms that will help alleviate our state's housing crisis. These interconnected issues are critical to the health of the state economy.
The first few weeks of the session are typically devoted almost exclusively to working in our committees. I have been appointed Vice Chair of the House Committee on Education. My experience as a classroom teacher of 17 years, a CVSD School Board member, an instructor for graduate education students, and as a parent will continue to inform my unwavering commitment to public education. Given the large number of new members, we have spent these first few weeks helping members understand the landscape of education in Vermont and meeting many of the major stakeholders. The education community has been nearly unanimous in their list of the greatest needs for our state: teacher workforce, school facilities and mental health support for students and staff.
I am currently drafting a bill to create incentives for future teachers and support for our existing teacher workforce. Steps like student loan forgiveness, financial support during student teaching semesters and waivers for licensure fees are a beginning but I am well aware that our entire system is very strained and the challenges are complex. Fewer young people are entering the field (and this was true even before the pandemic exacerbated the trend), turnover for principals is incredibly high and we must continue to focus on recruiting, supporting and retaining our teacher workforce. I am committed to the incremental work we must do for many years to come.
Our work on the Education Committee is shaped by an inherent tension in our system: local school districts retain most authority over schools yet we have a statewide education fund. A recent US Supreme Court Case (Carson v. Makin) may have implications for Vermont’s existing town tuitioning system and public education dollars going to independent schools. We are digging heavily into this issue and I expect it will remain a central part of our work this biennium. Public schools are for all students and critical to our communities and our democracy.
I will continue to take the lead in ensuring that we keep universal meals in schools and anticipate this will have broad support in the House and Senate. Offering free meals to all students has gotten cash registers out of our schools, allowed our dedicated school nutrition staff to focus on quality food instead of chasing unpaid balances and most importantly, eliminated the stigma of who gets which lunch and at what cost. I polled all of my students last semester at Colchester High School while I was teaching and those I visited at Williston Central School last fall, and almost every student enthusiastically supports this program.
For those interested in digging into the details of proposed legislation, there is a wealth of information available on the General Assembly’s website and all committee meetings are live streamed. I look forward to meeting with the Williston-Richmond Rotary Club this week. Rep. Arsenault and I plan to hold monthly community conversations starting in February and will share the details for those meetings on Front Porch Forum once the dates are finalized. Government is us - it is the people we elect (at all levels) to make decisions on our behalf as best they can. I am honored to represent Williston and I strive to be accessible and responsive.Please email me at email@example.com with your questions, concerns or ideas anytime.