(Host) Governor Howard Dean says he won’t sign a school choice bill being considered in the House because it will hurt the quality of education at smaller schools throughout the state. Dean is also criticizing an Act 60 reform bill drafted by House Republican leaders.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Governor Howard Dean is sending a clear signal to House Republican leaders that he strongly opposes two new bills that have been identified as GOP priority issues for the session.
Two House committees have given their approval to a school choice plan that would allow students at any grade level to go to any public school in the state. The key to the bill is a provision that gives 90% of the student’s block grant to the new school. Under current law money does not follow the student. The existing school choice law, which has just gone into place, also limits the number of schools that a student can consider going to.
Dean says it is a mistake to pass another school choice law before the current one has had a chance to operate and the governor believes that unlimited school choice will drain money away from smaller schools:
(Dean) "In Vermont, the local public schools are the heart of most communities and I think that on a bipartisan basis there’s going to be some resistance to this. There’s no chance it’s gong to pass and it’s again just simply a political statement. I am a little tired at this stage of the game, where in April these guys ought to be wrapping this up and going home and we still see these political bills coming to the floor for political reasons and not for policy reasons."
(Kinzel) The measure is being reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee and could be on the floor for debate in the near future.
Another bill that will soon be on the House floor is an Act 60 reform plan drafted by the House Ways and Means Committee. The proposal increases the statewide property tax rate by 28 cents, it increases the student block grant to $7,000, it eliminates the sharing pool and allows towns to spend up to $10,500 per student before a new sharing mechanism kicks in. It also caps rebate checks at $2500 and it authorizes the state to participate in the national Powerball lottery game.
Dean likes the idea of raising the statewide property tax rate and doing away with the sharing pool, but he says this plan has too many other problems:
(Dean) "At this point there are so many things the matter with it in terms of the deficit, in terms of the state responsibility for a guaranteed yield, in terms of Powerball, that I really don’t think it’s a serious plan any more."
(Kinzel) The Act 60 reform bill, which is also being reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee, could be on the House floor for debate in the next ten days.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.