- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - In a post-midnight vote Saturday, the Vermont House passed a bill to ease spending caps on local school districts.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Saturday lauded lawmakers’ diligence, saying the vote gives school boards around the state the clarity they need to make budgeting decisions in advance of Town Meeting Day.

The law that was passed last year - Act 46 - imposed tax penalties for school districts that exceeded spending limits designed to provide property tax relief, but the penalties were steeper than many expected.

A compromise fix was passed by the Senate on Thursday. A move to allow the House to consider the proposal Friday failed but lawmakers scrambled to reconsider it.

Act 46 is designed to encourage Vermont’s school districts to look at merging with their neighbors for greater efficiency. But in the months since the bill passed last spring, school districts have been complaining about the penalties in the bill, saying many are being applied to them unfairly.

Shumlin said Saturday that Act 46 “is working better than I had imagined.”

“Over half of all students in this state now live in communities that are moving forward with, or having serious conversations about, how to work together to improve educational quality and provide relief to taxpayers,” Shumlin said. “It is how we will right-size our education system to reflect the fact that there are 20,000 fewer students today than in 1998.”

The Senate earlier this month voted to repeal the spending restrictions; the House voted to loosen them somewhat but not to repeal. The measure voted on early Saturday loosens the restrictions somewhat for schools spending more per pupil than the statewide average, and repeals them for those spending less than the statewide average.

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