2019 Legislative Status Report: Education Policy Initiatives

Voices for Vermont’s Children has just released their 2019 Legislative report on Education Policy, highlighting work by the Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools and other partners in education equity. Read on to learn more and see how you can stay involved (or get more involved!) in education policy in Vermont!

From Voices for Vermont’s Children:

We're at the halfway point of the 2019-20 legislative biennium, after a session marked by both exciting advances for kids and deep frustration around a lack of progress on key family support bills. This is our third update on key legislative actions, focused on education policy initiatives. Don't want to wait? You can download the full report about the status of Voices' legislative agenda on our website.

Invest in Afterschool Programs
An extensive report from the Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Working Group under Vermont’s PreK-16 Council has shown that $2.5 million per year is needed to make sure every family and student who needs afterschool and summer learning can have access to these programs. We support Vermont Afterschool’s recommendation that the State make a strong investment in afterschool programs to:

  1. support the learning, emotional and social needs of children and youth; and

  2. address the systemic inequities that limit access to afterschool and summer learning programs for low-income children, youth, and families.

Status: Progress
The Advisory Council on Child Poverty and Strengthening Families included in its 2018 report to the legislature a recommendation to increase investments in afterschool and summer programs to expand high quality programs and increase statewide access.During the session Vermont Afterschool provided an array of opportunities for policymakers and stakeholders to learn about afterschool and summer learning. They included:

Education Funding: Eliminate the Property Tax on Primary Residences and Base School Taxes on Income
Voices will support a proposal to make the school funding system fairer and less complicated. While Vermont’s current funding system is the most progressive in the country, it still favors upper-income Vermonters who pay their education taxes based on property value thus allowing them to pay a smaller share of their income in school taxes than low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Eliminating the property tax on primary residences makes the school tax system less regressive and simpler. First, it would be based on each taxpayer’s ability to pay; and second, it would go from two systems - one for higher-income people and one for low- and middle-income people - to one system for everyone (see Public Asset’s fact sheet for details).

Status: Progress
The Senate Committee on Education heard testimony from Public Assets Institute about the benefits of Act 60/68 (Vermont’s education funding law) and how its progressivity can be improved by eliminating the school property tax on all primary residences.

What you can do: Stay tuned. We will work with our partners to introduce a bill in 2020 that establishes income-based education taxes for all residents.

Ethnic & Social Equity in Schools
The lack of attention to the histories and contributions of non-dominant racial, ethnic, and social groups in school curriculums contributes to the marginalization of members of these groups, and leads to a standard of miseducation for all students. Including the history and contributions of people from more diverse racial, ethnic, and social identities can enrich students' achievement, positive identity development, and sense of awareness and connectedness to local, national, and global communities.

Voices will support the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools (VCESES) work to advance legislation that establishes a working group to create inclusive curriculum standards across all subjects, PreK-12.

Status: Success
Early in the session, the legislature unanimously passed H. 3. and Act 1 was signed into law March 29, 2019 (link to video of signing). In summary, Act 1establishes the ethnic and social equity standards advisory working group comprising 20 members that includes two students. A majority of the advisory working group (11) will be appointed by VCESES. The group’s charge is to review and recommend to the State Board of Education standards, across all subjects, prek-12, that “recognize fully the history, contributions, and perspectives of ethnic groups and social groups” outlined in the law.

Members of VCESES worked tirelessly with policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure that a strong bill passed (see examples of testimony) and that it reflected VCESES vision for Vermont schools and students. As Amanda Garces, founder of VCESES, said at the bill signing, “every student deserves to have access to their histories and an education that represents the community they come from… that each one comes from a legacy of thinkers, creators and resisters..”

As a member of the VCESES, Voices is supporting community outreach efforts across the state to engage parents, youth, and educators in learning about Act 1 and together how to design inclusive curriculum for their schools.

What you can do: Thank legislators for their unanimous support and talk with them about why the law matters to you. Become a VCESES partner. Help support VCESES community-driven efforts to work with educators, youth and parents to design inclusive curricula.

Helen Beattie: The importance of proficiency-based learning

“Vermont’s decision to shift from a traditional to a proficiency-based grading system is essential to ensuring all youth reach their full potential. It is my hope that the Vermont National Education Association’s request to push back the deadline for implementing proficiency-based graduation requirements to 2022 does not diminish a commitment to this change. Here is why I feel so strongly that proficiency-based learning should be a hallmark of our state’s educational model.

Letter grades do not tell the whole story; proficiencies are a more accurate measure of learning. As a school psychologist, I saw far too many students lose confidence in themselves as learners because they needed a slower pace of learning in one or more of their studies. This may have been due to learning differences or a myriad of other life factors that interfered with their learning during that time period. These individuals had the capacity to master the material, they just did not have the time or support to do so given their immediate context. Once a student stops believing in his or her capacity as a learner, that loss of confidence charts a course toward increasing feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness and progressive disengagement. The traditional grading system feeds this downward spiral.

In contrast, proficiencies measure what you know and can do, providing a more accurate measure of learning. What is currently deemed as “failure” is actually an essential step in the learning process. In a proficiency system, there’s time for practice and learning from mistakes. Redoing work to reach mastery follows the natural learning progression. It also encourages learners to take risks as they master new skills and concepts. In this system, a student’s capacity as a learner is continually reinforced. Educators better understand their students and students better understand themselves as learners. Proficiency-based learning allows educators and the learners to identify their strengths and weaknesses to monitor learning progress over time. A math teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School described the benefit of proficiency-based learning this way: “For me, you get so much more information about what your learner has learned.” Students also become far more competent learners and share responsibility for their education. A recent Peoples Academy High School valedictorian recounted, “Whereas before, I was just thinking that I knew it because I did it, and there wasn’t any self reflection. So, now I have to be like, ‘Did I learn this?’ And I’m like, ‘No,’ I need to learn it again. I obviously didn’t meet the proficiency.’”

A proficiency-based system ensures all students realize their potential. My organization, UP for Learning, has been helping students and educators understand the power and rightness of proficiency-based learning, or “why” it matters. We initially produced an introduction to proficiency-based principles. We followed up with “Stories on the Road to Proficiency”  in partnership with the Vermont Folklife Center. The video provides a glimpse into four different Vermont classrooms that have fully embraced proficiencies. These videos provide ample evidence of the benefit of this more accurate and informative means to assess learning. In the words of Greg Shepler, a social studies teacher at Harwood Union High School, “This is a pretty significant paradigm shift for the students and the parents, and I’m also going to throw in there [that it] still [is] for a lot of teachers. It’s not what we’re used to. Students, teachers, parents and politicians—everyone—needs to be re-educated on this process […] needs to be open and give this new system an opportunity to prove itself.” I hope we can all support educators, students and parents as they do the hard work to shift to a new means of learning and assessment. It may take more time, but that will be worth it if we can ensure that in Vermont all young people are able to learn deeply and realize their full potential.”

Published March 10, 2018 by VTDigger (https://vtdigger.org/2019/03/10/helen-beattie-importance-proficiency-based-learning/)

Cultivating Pathways wins international award!


Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability
a project launched from VTLFF in partnership with Shelburne Farms, a keystone member of the Greater Burlington Sustainability Education Network, has been recognized as a Flagship Project by the United Nations Regional Centers of Expertise (RCE) for Education for Sustainability!

2018 RCE Awards for Innovative Projects on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Established in 2012, the RCE Award celebrates projects and programmes on ESD within the Global RCE Network, honouring RCEs who have made outstanding contributions to address local sustainable development challenges in their regions. 

The Award recognises projects and programmes that bridge local and global perspectives on sustainable development, those that engage with transformative learning and research, and initiatives that contribute to community engagement, research & development and capacity development of stakeholders and partners.

The winners of the seventh annual RCE Awards, presented at the 11th Global RCE Conference held in Cebu, Philippines from 7-9 December, 2018 covered projects across the SDGs and themes of Disaster Risk Reduction, Traditional Knowledge, Agriculture, Arts, Curriculum Development, Ecotourism, Forests/trees, Plants & Animals, and Waste. 

Congratulations to Lindsey Halman, Jen Cirillo and Kate Toland who launched CPS together in the fall of 2016! (Read more: Shelburne Farms Blog)

Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability 3: "powerful, engaging, just what we needed!"


On October 3rd and 4th, the Coach Barn at Shelburne Farms was full to bursting with the animated voices of middle and high school students from across Vermont. Teams of students, teachers and community partners gathered to learn and plan together, designing projects to address real challenges locally and globally: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Crossett Brook Middle School students are writing a business plan for their Cougar Coop, several schools are targeting waste and resources, and the Youth Lobby is building their network of partners and planning for the upcoming legislative session. VTLFF has been a proud supporter and partner of CPS since the concept was first launched. Check out some photos of the days, and be inspired!

VTLFF stands with allies to fight against racism

Vermont Learning for the Future stands with partners and allies who have signed on to the following letter in response to Representative Kiah Morris's announcement not to seek another term in office. Rep. Morris has been a steadfast and courageous advocate for justice and equity and we're proud her work on important pieces of legislation to improve the lives of Vermont's children and families. She will be missed in the legislature, be we have no doubt that she will continue to be a force for good.

Systemic Racism is Real

What happened to Representative Kiah Morris is a crisis for Vermont.

The Bennington state representative, and the only black woman in the Vermont legislature, recently announced that she would not seek a third term, in part because of repeated racist threats made against her and her family.  

Rep. Morris has been a champion of racial and social justice during her time in the legislature. She has been an outspoken critic of the status quo and has brought a voice to those who are often marginalized and mistreated by our system.

Yet the threats to Rep. Morris were not motivated by the policies she fought for or the politics she pursued, but because of the color of her skin. They were made by Vermonters who are angry and upset to see a black woman in a position of leadership and power. The harassment of Rep. Morris and her family show once again that white supremacy is alive and well in Vermont and we are not doing enough to stop it.

The fact that Rep. Morris stepped down amid ongoing racist threats and harassment, and a perceived lack of support from Vermont’s institutions and leaders, is unacceptable. It is deeply troubling that the only black woman in the Vermont legislature has been compelled to withdraw from politics – Vermont needs more representatives who reflect the experiences of its increasingly diverse communities, not just in the State House, but in all levels our government, state agencies and leadership in our communities.

This is a huge loss for the state, but deeper down it is indicative of broader problems of systemic racism and hate in this state, problems that Rep. Morris worked to change as a legislator.

As a state we are at a critical juncture, and we must take action. Vermont’s leaders - and all other Vermonters - need to recognize the significance of Rep. Morris’ decision and how poorly it reflects on our institutions and our state. For too long we have propped up systems that work better for white people than for those of color. The silence of the white majority in Vermont allows this problem to persist.

We are at a crossroads as a state and as a community, and where we decide to go from here will be telling. Do we value a society that is free from the stains of institutional racism? What values do we as a people hold true and just? And what concrete steps are we willing to take, consistent with those values?

As organizations we are evaluating what we can do differently, looking to see what roles we have played that have created and perpetuated this culture, and what we can do moving forward to support and create equity and fairness. We are also calling on Vermont’s leaders — including in the Governor’s office, in the State House, all law enforcement officials in towns, cities, counties and state, all prosecutors in every district, including the Attorney General, and even in the media — to critically evaluate what more needs to be done to support Vermonters of color and create a state that is truly welcoming to all.

The work Representative Morris championed will continue and we look forward to her continued leadership. We must all work together to achieve the more equitable society that Rep. Morris and so many others have fought for.

 The following organizations have signed on:

Main Street Alliance of Vermont, Toxic Action Center, The Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence, Justice for All, Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance, Planned Parenthood, Vermont Action Fund, ACLU-VT, Public Assets Institute, Vermont Natural Resource Council, Vermont Conservation Voters, VPIRG, Vermont Interfaith Action, Vermont NEA, and Rights and Democracy.

Vermont Learning for the Future

(Also see related letter from the Windham County Delegation challenging racism and bigotry)

VTLFF Profiled in Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly

The Summer 2018 Edition of the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly takes an in-depth look at how Education for Sustainability (EfS) is informing the teaching of environmental and sustainability education in K-12 schools, and how sustainability is driving systems-level change in schools and school districts. Articles explore the definition of EfS and how it compares to similar progressive education initiatives, as well as how states, schools, and school districts are looking to EfS, systems change, and whole school sustainability to inform instruction, curriculum, and leadership.  

Transforming Education for Equity, Sustainability, and Joy: Accelerating Systems Change through Diverse, Emergent Networks

Ben Freeman explains how grassroots network Vermont Learning for the Future is using systems change to transform the state's education system and provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to create an equitable, joyful, and sustainable future. Read More >

Full Issue >, including feature article by VTLFF partner Jen Cirillo of Shelburne Farms!

The Education Fund - do you really know how it works?

Education spending, tax rates, teacher ratios, cuts and compromises. Can you see through the spin and the stories to get at the facts behind it all? As someone who spends a lot of time trying to understand, I know I struggle to keep it all straight, which is why I found this clear and concise commentary from the Public Assets Institute so compelling: "There's No Education Fund Deficit". Every current and future taxpayer and voter should take a look!

Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability Regathers and Inspires!


On Friday, May 11, over 100 students, teachers and collaborators from seven schools across Vermont returned to Shelburne Farms to share their year-long Cultivating Pathways projects. This event was a follow-up from the gathering last fall where teams convened to learn more about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and engage in a design thinking process to develop learning impact projects centered on the goals. In a sense, this was a reunion tour - a chance for teams to share and learn from one-another and build ideas for what comes next. It was amazing to see what each team accomplished in a year and the pride the students took in their learning. I can't wait to see what new ideas and projects these students will bring to the table when we reconvene with a new group for CP3 next fall!

Check out this video from the Crossett Brook Middle School for a taste of what the students accomplished. So impressive!

Power-Squared Summit magnifies student voice for change

Power2 logo&image.jpeg

On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, youth-adult partnership teams from 21 Vermont high schools and organizations descended upon the Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee to share their power at the Power 2 Summit. Power 2 is short for Power-Squared, acknowledging the synergistic force for change that happens when youth partner with adults to bring about innovations they want to see in education. Fourteen sharing sessions, ranging from the City & Lake Semester in Burlington to the Getting to “Y” team from Springfield, were presented by the teams undertaking a  change initiative. The kick-off and youth voice finale were led by the Summit facilitation team from Lamoille Union High School, partnering with Chris Castro, a junior at the Leominster Center for Excellence in Leominster, MA. Chris and his family moved to Leominster from the Bronx in 2009, when he was 8. Hunger and housing instability are challenges that surfaced in Chris’ life, but by no means have they defined him. Using song and his own words, Chris shared his story of his life and the educational path he finds himself on. Along the way, he developed a passion for connecting to understand people’s experiences in the hopes of enriching himself and those around him.

Reposted with permission from UP for Learning. VTLFF is a planning partner for Power2.