Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott today attended the Turrell Fund Day for Children in Shelburne, addressing a crowd of policy makers, advocates and funders focused on supporting children’s well-being in Vermont. He reiterated his vision for public education in Vermont as a potential shut down of state government looms over the state. The administration and the Legislature are at a stalemate primarily over funding for pubic education.
Below is a full transcript of his address.
Governor Scott: I want to start by thanking all of you, not just for having me, but for your work to improve the well-being of our kids.
Because, as you all know, creating greater opportunity for our kids takes all of us pulling in the same direction. Even when we may disagree on how to get there, if we share the goal of giving our kids the best possible lives and futures, anything is possible
In January, I reiterated my vision for Vermont, one that leads all Vermonters to a brighter future – and that’s the future I want for our kids as well.
I asked the Legislature to work with me to create better opportunities and outcomes for our children and families – and to do it while helping Vermonters keep more of what they earn and restoring the economic and fiscal fundamentals required to invest in our future and our kids.
I believe with fiscal discipline, a commitment to doing things better and smarter so we create capacity to do more, and prioritizing economic growth, we can build a future with classrooms that are actually full of kids; where more students go to college, or are trained in a trade, and have an opportunity to live and work right here in Vermont.
A future with vibrant communities, where the economy is growing faster than the cost of living and our state is more affordable each year for families, retirees, and businesses. Where we have safer neighborhoods, with fewer suffering from addiction, and where we never struggle to meet our obligation to protect the most vulnerable.
That’s my vision for Vermont, and for our kids.
Undoubtedly, many of you are aware of the disagreement I’m having with the Legislature over increasing statewide property tax rates.
And while most of the attention has been on our debate over property tax rates, it started with the goal of improving the efficiency of our K-12 education system, so we can do more to support our kids from cradle, to career – and that includes focusing on the early care and learning priorities you’re working on.
Here’s what we face today:
Currently, we spend about $1.7 billion to educate 76,000 students. That gives us the highest per-student spending in the country, by far—and double the national average. Meanwhile, we’re near the bottom when it comes to investment in early care and learning, and higher education.
We agree investing in our kids is critical. They are our future engineers, educators and technicians; our future leaders, parents and citizens.
But think about it this way: If I came to you with a check every year, for $1.7 billion, and asked you to educate the same number of students we have today, I’d dare say that our system would look much different than it does now.
It would be the envy of our nation, and one of the best economic development tools we could ever have.
If we work together to transform our K-12 system, based on the needs of our kids and not nostalgia, we can invest much more in these other critical areas, without raising the price tag on Vermonters.
We made some progress towards this Cradle-to-Career vision last year, increasing investments in our Child Care Financial Assistance Program by $2.5 million and in the Vermont State College System by $3 million.
We also made progress this year to enhance safety at our schools, passing gun safety legislation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, as well as a school safety audit and funding for improvements in this area.
But we have more work to do.
Vermont has great schools, teachers and staff. And by most measures, we deliver a good education to our kids. But, we could have the very best education in the country, with what we spend today.
Our education system is diverting resources away from kids due to a change in our demographics. Twenty years ago, we were educating about 103,000 kids. Today it’s 76,000—almost 30,000 less. Meanwhile, property tax rates have increased every year, often faster than Vermonters’ paychecks and property values.
We have a good graduation rate, but our student test scores are only two percentage points higher than the national average. And only about half of our high school graduates go on to technical or trade school, or earn a college degree.
Outcomes and funding from school to school remain alarmingly unequal. We have some schools offering a wide range of foreign languages, environmental studies, cutting-edge science, technology and engineering programs. And we have other schools that can’t offer any of this.
It's time to have the courage to admit we can do much more for our kids, achieve better outcomes and attract the families we desperately need.
That’s why I’ve proposed a five-year plan to stabilize statewide property tax rates, make some policy changes and work with districts to make structural reforms, which will free up hundreds of millions in additional savings to invest in more opportunities for our kids.
To be very clear, my focus is not on cutting spending. It’s about spending the money we have in a far better way than we do today, so we can provide more opportunities and make our education system the very best in the country.
But, change can be difficult. Believe me, I know how hard it is to reconsider long-held views. I think I illustrated the willingness and courage to do so during the gun safety debate. So, I’m asking lawmakers to have a little of that courage as well. To re-examine the status quo and take a different approach to what we’ve done in the past.
If we have the courage to rethink the way we’ve always done things, we can break the cycle of constant increases in tax rates, and reform a good system to make it the very best in America.
I’ve been committed to this work and to transforming our system into a Cradle-to-Career continuum of learning, so we can focus on kids and outcomes from child care and early learning to K-12 to college, as well as technical training and adult education.
I believe this focus on education at every stage will bring benefits beyond the classroom, giving kids more opportunities in the future. I know you all understand, much more than I, the benefits of providing better care and learning opportunities for children at a young age when the brain is developing at such a fast rate.
So, I appreciate your work in this area. I know it’s not easy, but it’s important.
Please know, that my priorities in Montpelier—which are to grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable—all seek to move us toward that future I described earlier: To ensure all families, all kids, feel the hope of a bright future in Vermont—whether they’re from Burlington or Brunswick; whether they want to be an engineer or run the family farm. Montpelier must do more to help every child, every person, every community, every county, succeed and thrive.
So, again, I appreciate your ear, as well as all you do for our youngest Vermonters.
Source: Gvoernor 6.12.2018