House approves education cost bill

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(Host) The Vermont House has given final approval to new legislation to help control education costs in the future.

Backers of the bill estimate that the measure will save roughly $9 million a year when the legislation is fully implemented in three years.

The heart of the bill is a provision that discourages towns from spending significantly above the statewide average. The legislation also calls for a review of towns that have above-average special education expenses.

The bill reduces the size of the maximum rebate for homeowners under the income sensitive provisions of Act 68 from $10,000 to $6,000.

The House reviewed and rejected a number of amendments to the legislation including a proposal sponsored by Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright that would have made it illegal for teachers to go on strike.

Wright says his plan calls for binding arbitration when labor disputes can’t be resolved:

(Wright) “These strikes are extremely disruptive to families, are divisive to communities. They create a situation which we should never want, which is one where teachers are pitted against parts of the community. Local school board members are pitted against other parts of the community and it is a situation which we should certainly want to strive for a new system Madame Speaker.”

(Host) House Education chairwoman Janet Ancel opposed the plan to ban teacher strikes:

(Ancel) “We understand that strikes are disruptive and divisive in communities and obviously where we can avoid having that kind of disruption happen that’s a good thing. We also know that many labor disputes are driven by health care costs, which is not actually a subject in this bill. I am very apprehensive about such a significant revision of our Vermont labor law.”

(Host) The Senate is considering its own education cost containment plan. It’s legislation that also targets towns that spend above the statewide average.

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