House Passes Act 60 Reform Bill

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(Host) After a full day of debate, the House late Friday afternoon gave its approval to legislation that makes some key changes to Act 60, the state’s education funding law. The final vote of 75 to 61 was largely along party lines. Most Republicans voted for the bill, most Democrats voted against it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When Republicans took over control of the Vermont House in January of 2001, one of their top priorities was the passage of legislation that would eliminate the sharing pool of Act 60. But last year Republican leaders were unable to reach a consensus in their caucus on a new bill. Stowe Representative Dick Marron, who chairs the House Ways and Means committee, floated out several different plans this year in an effort to win majority support in the GOP caucus.

The proposal that finally emerged does several things. It raises the statewide property tax rate from $1.10 to $1.38 to boost the state’s block grant to $7,000 per student, and the plan also eliminates the sharing pool of Act 60. It allows towns to spend as much as $10,000 per student – that’s 150% of the block grant amount – before a new sharing provision kicks in. It also permits the state of Vermont to join Powerball, the national lottery game.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill on Friday. One proposal lowered the amount of money a town can spend per student before the new sharing component goes into effect. Waterbury representative Val Vincent argued that it’s unfair to allow towns to spend as much as $3,000 more per student before any sharing takes place. Vincent says it is much easier for a town like Stowe to raise the local money than it is for a community like Morrisville:

(Vincent) "I’ve tried to point out that this bill is once again establishing the inequity for students in towns that do not have the resources to support their education as fully as other towns that have a great deal of property wealth."

(Kinzel) But Stowe Representative Dick Marron urged members to defeat the Vincent amendment because Marron says individual schools have very different spending needs:

(Marron) "The member’s proposal of amendment basically guts what this bill is all about…. There are wide disparities in spending because of the economy of scale. Our larger school districts have lower per student costs…. So I think that we crafted this bill, we put the 150% cap in. Right now there is only one school district that is at that cap level. I think we’ve got a realistic bill here."

(Kinzel) The House defeated the amendment by a vote of 87 to 52. The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration. It’s likely that the Senate will make significant changes to the House bill and it’s uncertain if the two chambers will be able to resolve their differences over this issue before the end of the session.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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