Lawmakers Advance Bill To Change Education Leadership

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(Host) Lawmakers have endorsed two bills that backers believe will help improve the quality of education in Vermont.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, one bill affects the role of the commissioner of Education, and the other expands public school choice.

(Kinzel) The House considered the issue of education leadership, and by a margin of 114 to 17, it passed legislation that will give a Governor more input into the discussion of education issues.

Currently, the governor appoints the commissioner from a list of candidates provided by the State Board of Education and the commissioner reports directly to the Board. 

Under this bill, the governor would appoint the commissioner and they would become a member of the Governor’s cabinet as the Secretary of Education.

Burlington Rep. Joey Donovan is the chair of the House Education committee. She thinks the plan will create more statewide discussion of key education issues during political campaigns.

(Donovan) "Rarely do we have a meaningful discussion of the quality of education and the kinds of successful outcomes we want for our students. We don’t have this discussion because the Governor sits on the sidelines with no real authority to drive any decisions."

(Kinzel) But Newport Rep. Duncan Kilmartin said mixing politics and education policy was a very bad idea.

(Kilmartin) "This bill makes our children’s education subject to the worst and most destructive aspect of partisan politics and ideological agendas that cut to the heart of parental rights and obligations."

(Kinzel) The measure is scheduled to come up for final approval in the House on Thursday. It will then be considered in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate has given its approval to a bill that expands public school choice throughout the state.

Currently, families can elect to send their children to any public school on a regional basis. The bill expands that option to any public school in Vermont. Rutland senator Kevin Mullin is the chair of the Senate Education committee.

(Mullin) "It’s estimated that this will expand the current under Act 150 the regional choice compacts there’s about 300 students taking advantage of that and this is estimated to double that to 600students."

(Kinzel) And Mullin says this option could be very helpful to a number of students.

(Mullin) "If you’re really gifted in music or the arts and you’re at a school that for budget reasons doesn’t have good programs this would make a school available to you that does offer that wide array of music and art courses and so that you can excel."

(Kinzel) While House leaders are not enthusiastic about this bill, they say they will give it a fair hearing in the next few weeks.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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