It’s hard to believe that we are nearly halfway through the 2021 Legislative Session. We will have next week “off” from the Zoomworld of House Floor action and committee meetings, as well as from our usual physical attendance at Town Meetings. My tradition of getting to all of my constituent towns to spend a few minutes visiting with folks, giving a brief report, and answering questions will be missed and I hope that if people have questions, thoughts, or concerns that you reach out to me at my legislative email, which is email@example.com.
When we return to the Legislature via Zoom, it will be crossover week and there will be an all-out effort to get bills out of their policy committees and on to the Floor. As a reminder, crossover, which is on March 12, marks the day by which bills have to be out of their committees of jurisdiction and on to the next step in order to be considered by the other body without a rules suspension.
Action will be intense and the potential for long days necessary that week. The following week or two will require a lot of Floor time in order to work everything that has been passed out of committees through the process.
Town Meeting week also gives us an opportunity to take stock of what we have been able to accomplish thus far and how it might help Vermonters who continue to struggle with the effects of the pandemic.
One of the very important bills we passed this week is H.315, the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Aid bill, which adds $80 million to the effort. Its goal is to stimulate economic recovery, address health disparities, and increase social equity. The money is targeted at several areas including small businesses that so far have received no federal assistance. We are aware that businesses created just before the pandemic began did not have the required economic history to apply for grants. Housing creation for homeless Vermonters and those struggling with mental health issues is part of the package as well as additional community supports for those with mental illness.
There will be one-time stimulus checks for the lowest-income Vermonters on Reach Up and we make additional investments in the very successful VT Farmers to Families Food Box program, which ran aground for a while when the contract was awarded to an out-of-state company. This program not only helps Vermonters access fresh, nutritious food, but also helps our farmers who were struggling when their restaurant and food-service markets dried up as a result of the pandemic.
Money is included to improve indoor air quality in our school buildings to ensure student/staff safety and to provide pandemic-related services for our immigrant communities and New Americans.
Additionally, the pandemic has revealed even more clearly the disparities in health care experienced by our BIPOC community. The bill calls for increased data collection to track these disparities and improve health equity.
Finally, we are very aware of the challenges we face regarding the pension systems for our state employees and teachers. We value their work highly and H.315 makes added investments in those systems. It does not solve the problem completely but is a step in the right direction.
We recently passed H.81, which will allow public school support staff, who frequently earn less than teachers, the right to bargain for a lower share of their health insurance costs. These include para educators, food service workers, bus drivers, and custodians.
We heard from many Vermonters asking that we amend an act from 2018 that created a statewide health insurance contract for all Vermont school employees. This required the lowest paid workers, 87% of whom are women and 40% of whom are the primary wage earners in their households, to pay in at the same rate as higher paid staff. Understandably, this made life difficult for those lower wage workers. H.81 also improves transparency regarding health insurance costs for both employees and employers. The bill passed on a very strong vote and both H.315 and H.81 are in the Senate for their consideration and approval.
One of the great joys for me is hearing from constituents who have positive, constructive ideas that we can think about and consider. This happened recently and was coincidental with me thinking about how fortunate we are in Windham to be having our elementary children attending school in-person four-days a week since school began on September 8th. Secretary of Education Dan French has expressed concern for some of the negative effects and struggles remote learning may be having on Vermont’s students.
My constituent from Grafton, Diana Lawrence, wrote to me the following: “I read the weekly COVID-19 update from the Vermont Department of Health today and it talked about the struggles that Vermont kids are having without the supports of in-person learning. In addition to the terrible impact on students with exceptionalities, students are generally falling behind on content and concepts and missing the high-touch experience of in-person instruction.”
She went on to tell me about tutoring she is doing on weekends for her sister’s company, Evoke Learning, which is in the Toronto region in Ontario. She went on to say that she was doing research into the benefits of tutoring in addressing learning loss and the very strong research that “shows that ‘high-impact tutoring’ (several times a week) in one-to-one and small-group settings is one of the very best ways to address learning loss and improve academic performance.” Researchers at Johns Hopkins and other universities are proposing a national tutoring initiative but clearly, that would cost a lot of money.
What Diana suggests is that we could establish a “Teach for Vermont” volunteer brigade, perhaps of retired folks, who enjoy working with children and would be willing to volunteer and commit to at least one term/semester. They would obviously have to be matched, screened, vaccinated, and willing to observe COVID-19 protocols.
Diana says, “The research I read, from Johns Hopkins and Harvard and elsewhere, shows that you don’t have to be a certified and experienced teacher to make a connection and a difference with a child who needs extra learning support. Liking kids, knowing your stuff, and having the time and patience to sit down and teach/mentor has been shown to be very effective. After all, tutoring is the most ancient form of education.” She, herself, is thinking of making herself available to local schools after she is vaccinated and says, “I feel like there is an untapped well of energy out there just looking for a point of focus.” Kudos to you, Diana, for thinking outside the box and taking the time to share your thoughts with me.
Diana included links to several studies that I will include below.
Wong, USA Today, Aug. 10, 2020
The Production of Human Capital in Developed Countries: Evidence from 196 Randomized Field Experiments. Roland G. Fryer, Jr Working Paper 22130, March 2016
The National Reading Corps: Scaling Up Proven Tutoring for Struggling Students Concept Paper by Robert E. Slavin Nancy A. Madden Amanda Neitzel Cynthia Lake, Johns Hopkins University and Success for All Foundation, Second Revision, Dec. 14, 2020
A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students by Ariane Baye, Amanda Inns, Cynthia Lake, Robert E. Slavin, 23 September 2018.
Scale Up Tutoring to Combat COVID Learning Loss for Disadvantaged Students by Philip Oreopoulos, Scientific American, Nov. 24, 2020.
Takeaways from research on tutoring to address coronavirus learning loss: Research points to frequent sessions and a structured curriculum in helping struggling students catch up by Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report, May 25, 2020.
Kraft MA. How to Make Additional Time Matter: Integrating Individualized Tutorials into an Extended Day. Education Finance and Policy [Internet]. 2015;10 (1) :81-116.
Kraft, Matthew A., and Grace Falken. (2021). A Blueprint for Scaling Tutoring Across Public Schools. (EdWorkingPaper: 20-335). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://doi.org/10.26300/dkjh-s987
The Impressive Effects of Tutoring on PreK-12 Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence, by Andre Nickow, Philip Oreopoulos and Vincent Quan, July 2020.