Report from Montpelier

by Rep. Joan Lenes

There are very important, controversial topics that we are facing in Montpelier this Biennium. I appreciate the thoughtful emails and phone calls I receive explaining your points of view. I take these conversations seriously and they certainly play a big part of my decision making when the time comes for me to vote. Your input is one part of a complex system when I weigh all possible outcomes. Gun control and end of life choices, which are both personal and value laden, are two such issues that deserve fair analysis and I will give them that. 

Our Government Operations committee has received the summer study report on Search and Rescue that was required by legislation last Session.  The study set forth an interim protocol until legislation is in place.  The new legislation will include a Search and Rescue Coordinator and a Council to provide oversight and review.  As is so often the case, there has not been clear and transparent jurisdiction over search and rescue procedures.  The study, and now legislation, built on that information is working to correct the process.

The Education Committee has reported that is has taken up a comprehensive pre-K bill that would expand access, clarify oversight, and create a simplified payment system throughout the state. Over the last decade, advances in neuroscience have confirmed that a child’s brain develops critical cognitive functions between birth and five-years-old. Research is conclusive about the value of providing children with age-appropriate educational instruction during this time. National studies and Vermont experience support our efforts to provide more children with early education because of cost savings over time – remediation, special education, etc. – and because the current inequity in access to pre-K offends our social contract with all of Vermont’s children to ensure they are college and career ready by adulthood. 

 In short, the current bill (H.270), requires that school districts pay for up to 10 hours/week of high-quality prekindergarten education for three and four year olds. Parents are not required to enroll their child and school districts are not required to establish new programs. Parents may choose to enroll their child in either a public or private program, so long as it meets the quality criteria – STARS – established by the Department of Children and Families and the Agency of Education. Finally, children will not be required to attend a program in their district – an important consideration since many parents work far away from their home district and the lack of available “slots” in some regions is quite troublesome. 

A statewide tuition rate, subject to regional adjustments, will be established to aid programs, parents, and school districts in predicting costs and revenue. When school districts fund a pre-K student, they may include an additional .5 FTE (full time equivalent) student in their average daily membership.

This bill takes the first step in strengthening the state’s commitment to early childhood education. It respects the valuable role that private providers play in creating high-quality, accessible education and establishes a simplified payment and oversight process. The Ed Committee will work on this bill over the next few weeks. 

Please join Rep. Kate Webb and me Tuesday mornings at Bruegger’s Bagels from 7:30 – 8:30 am.  You can also reach me at, 999-9363, or the toll free number in Montpelier (800) 322-5616.

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