State budgets, Zoie Saunders vote on menu as Vermont legislative session nears end

By Sen. Alison Clarkson

There are about two weeks left in Vermont’s 2024 legislative session. This is not a lot of time to negotiate policy differences between the House and the Senate. A great deal of policy work is still not settled. which concerns me. I am not a fan of the work that is often done in the rush of last minute.

The FY25 state budget and the transportation bill have only just gone into conference committees (the six-person committees: three from the House, three from the  Senate, designed to negotiate the final policy) and we await passage of the Act 250/Housing bill, H.687, and the Data Privacy bill, H.121, in order to even set up conference committees.

On Tuesday, April  30, the Senate will be voting on the confirmation of the governor’s appointment of Zoie Saunders as Secretary of Education. As you may have read, this has been a controversial nomination, since Saunders’ experience has been almost entirely working for a for-profit charter school company in Florida, Charter Schools, USA. Other than being a parent of children in public schools, and a 3-month stint in the Broward County public schools in a strategy capacity, re-imaging district operations, Saunders has no public or in-school work experience. She has never taught, served on a school board, or served as a principal or a superintendent of a school. In short, her very modest in-school management experience makes supporting her confirmation as our Secretary of Education tough.

You may ask, why does this matter? It matters because whoever our new secretary is, he or she will be facing an extraordinarily challenging moment in Vermont’s public-school history. Vermont has tough choices to make about a number of issues: school funding and budgeting, billions of dollars of needed school renovations and construction, a significant loss of workforce, increases in health-care costs, general inflation, and the post-Covid mental health challenges our students, staff and faculty are confronting.

And, at some point soon, Vermont needs to address one of the thorniest issues few are willing to discuss: the Supreme Court Carson v. Makin decision that requires us to send public taxpayer dollars to religious schools, through our school tuitioning program. It will take a knowledgeable and experienced educator and manager to navigate the challenges ahead and a person of real vision to lead us. Vermont needs someone who not only values public education – this foundation of our American dream and our democracy – but someone who is qualified to serve as Vermont’s public education champion.

One issue that has been settled for this biennium is that Vermont voters are closer to having the opportunity to amend our constitution with Proposal 3 in the 2026 General Election. With the House passing the measure 129-8 this past week (the Senate had already voted in favor 29-0), the legislature has signaled its support of this proposal, which would embed in our constitution the right for workers to organize and collectively bargain.

As you may recall with our Reproductive Liberty amendment – voted on by Vermonters in the 2022 General Election – it takes two biennium to pass a constitutional amendment through the legislature and onto the Vermont voters. In the 2025-26 biennium, both chambers of the legislature will have to vote ‘yes’ again, without changing a word of the proposal, for it to be included on our ballots in 2026.

I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: or by phone at the Statehouse Tuesday through Fridays at 802-828-2228 or at home Saturday through Mondays at 802- 457-4627.

Sen. Clarkson represents the Windsor District in the Vermont General Assembly.


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  1. Larry Semones says:

    Maybe some new ideas and experience from outside the public school model would be refreshing. I see declining numbers of students, declining test scores and increasing costs with current system.