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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

As Deadline Looms, Confusion Continues At Statehouse On Act 46 Spending Caps

Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would increase the proportion of education resources going to districts with economically disadvantaged students.
Angela Evancie
VPR File
Lawmakers are racing to make a decision on the controversial Act 46 spending caps before the end of this week to prevent further budget confusion for school boards around the state.

The big question at the Statehouse is, "What the heck is going on with efforts to change the spending caps of Act 46?”

On a strong voice vote, the Senate on Tuesday repealed the caps. But the House sent its bill expanding the caps back to the Education Committee for additional review.

That's because late last week, the Agency of Education issued a new interpretation of the expenses that towns need to include, to meet the budget caps.

Sound confusing? It certainly is. Nicole Mace is the executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.

"It creates an enormous amount of uncertainty, frustration and confusion about the budget that they are going to be presenting to their voters in just over a month,” Mace says.

It looks like a stalemate is looming because the House and Senate have very different approaches to this issue.

But both sides know that a failure to reach a compromise means that the spending caps will remain in place and that's an outcome they don't want.

"It creates an enormous amount of uncertainty, frustration and confusion about the budget that they are going to be presenting to their voters in just over a month." — Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association

That's why Senate Education chairwoman Ann Cummings says there's a lot of interest to find "some common ground" with the House.

“That's the one good thing about the caps is, I think at this point we've heard the testimony from school boards,” Cummings says. “That is the worst of all worlds. So I think that definitely is putting some wind behind our sails to find a compromise."

House Education chairman David Sharpe says he's optimistic that his committee will be able to find a compromise that will satisfy the Senate and a majority of House members.

“I know that the chair of the Senate Education committee's biggest concern is low spending communities being hit by these thresholds in Act 46,” Sharpe says. “So maybe some action with regard to low-spending communities will bring the two bodies closer together."

Both Representative Sharpe and Senator Cummings say they want to find a compromise by the end of this week. But resolving their disagreements in this timeframe could be difficult.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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