Administration wants school choice in Act 60 reform

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(Host) Administration Secretary Michael Smith is backing an effort to include an expanded school choice plan in the new compromise Act 60 Reform bill. Senate Education Chairman Jim Condos says he’ll strongly oppose the idea, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) As lawmakers work to finalize the details of a compromise Act 60 reform plan, the Douglas administration is proposing several new provisions to the bill that threaten to undermine the bipartisan support that the legislation has generated.

Administration Secretary Michael Smith says he wants to see an expanded public school choice proposal included in the bill. It’s an issue that the Legislature has not seriously addressed this year:

(Smith) “I’d like to see it folded into Act 60. The governor is committed to expanding school choice in this state and I think we need to work on that within this whole reform package.”

(Kinzel) But Senate Education Chairman Jim Condos (D-Chittenden County) says it makes no sense to expand the existing school choice program at this time.

(Condos) “We have a law that’s in place, a public school choice law, and we need to let that law work its way through its implementation phases and then see what changes we need to make down the road. I would be very hesitant to make any changes at this time when we’ve got a law that’s just starting to implement.”

(Kinzel) Administration Secretary Smith says it’s also critical to include several new cost containment measures in the bill. Smith says implementing regional teacher contracts might be a way to control expenses in the future:

(Smith) “What we’re really concerned about is, once we drop property taxes significantly as the compromise proposal does, that what we don’t want to happen is that those property taxes rise back up again to the levels where we have the situation again.”

(Kinzel) Senator Condos says he supports the idea of reviewing cost containment plans but he wants the Legislature to work on this issue over the summer:

(Condos) “It would be disingenuous for us to just start throwing things onto the Act 60 bill right now. Anything we do with Act 60 as far as permanent fixes is not going to take place until July of 2004 anyway, so we have some time here.”

(Kinzel) Condos says he wants to set up regional education summits throughout the state this summer so that lawmakers and local educators can fully explore the full impact that different cost containment proposals might have on individual school districts.

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

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