Time for bold changes in education

by Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Imagine a public education system that produces the most innovative thinkers in the world. Imagine a system that consistently produces the best-prepared citizens and attracts employers who care about the education of their employees’ children. Campaign for Vermont does.

When it comes to school funding, emphasis should be placed on how and where we’re spending our education dollars and whether there is good value for the amount we pay. Campaign for Vermont will demand it.

Since the passage of Act 68 six years ago, education property taxes in Vermont have increased by over 43 percent to $918 million – and that is merely two-thirds of what Vermonters spend on K-12 education. Vermont now spends over $1.3 billion on education, an increase of $250 million since 2005. During this same period, the number of students has dropped by more than 7,400 or 7.4 percent. Vermont’s spending per student is at the top in the United States and well above the national average; the United States average is among the highest in the world. This combination of rising costs and decline in school enrollment puts Vermont on an unsustainable track.

Simultaneously, Vermonters and their employers increasingly demand the highest quality education for a knowledge-based global economy that requires more educational opportunities. A study published in The Atlantic (“Your Child Left Behind,” December 2010) showed American student achievement in math ranked well behind other developed and emerging nations, though Massachusetts has developed new approaches with measurable positive results.

Further, for our youth who are not college-bound but seek employment in “middle-skilled” professions, a recent report by the Harvard School of Education (“Pathways to Prosperity,” February 2011) calls for dramatic reforms in our secondary education system and credentialed degree programs if we are to compete on the world stage.

Doing better requires that we use our educational dollars more wisely, facilitate the sharing of resources between schools more effectively and rethink our educational delivery system. We are not alone in this quest as schools and colleges across the U.S. are being forced to envision new models and approaches.

In 1997, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Vermont must provide “substantially equal educational opportunity” to all Vermont students. As a result, the Legislature passed Act 60. A controversial piece of legislation at the time, which remains controversial, Act 60’s principal goal of ensuring equalized education funding has been realized.

So now is the time to put children first – transform our delivery system to expand opportunities for our children and improve outcomes, all while ensuring an affordable system. That’s why in the coming legislative session, I will again propose changes to our education system that will provide for more transparency and promote prosperity for Vermonters.

  • Simplify and integrate our school system. Replace Vermont’s 62 supervisory unions with 14 “educational districts,” with boundaries similar to the current regional technical centers. Existing local school districts will remain to assure educational programs meet community standards. Educational districts will also be overseen by district boards and will focus on administrative and funding necessities, as well as managing special education and technical education programs. Students would have the opportunity to attend any school within the educational district.
  • Align our school funding system around educational districts. Promote more local control in our school funding system by aligning budgeting and revenue functions at the educational district level. Within this realigned structure, state government can integrate requirements and systems that ensure equal educational opportunity and provide for “income sensitivity.”

Together, with Campaign for Vermont, we think it is time to listen to the pleas of parents,employers and taxpayers. It is time to reform our educational system. It is time to be bold and to create a system that returns local control, expands opportunities for our children and improves the quality of our education so that our children are prepared for the knowledge-based global economy that our world has become.

One thought on “Time for bold changes in education

  1. Rep. Heidi Schuermann of Stowe is one of the ablest members of the legislature. However I believe her education reform plan is, frankly, dead wrong.
    She appeals to us to “put children first”. Her proposal is to put regional school districts first, to manage our “educational delivery system”.
    She terms this “local control”, but it is perfectly clear that her regional school boards – 14 in the state – will be controlled by the educrats with the acquiescence of board members mostly elected by the only organization with a multitown political presence, the Vermont NEA.
    She says students could attend any school within the educational district, but assuredly their choice will not include independent schools that compete with the public schools of the mega-district that would have to write the tuition checks.
    Better education for our children will not come from mega-districts controlled by the overfed public education establishment, delivering little knapsacks of education to students required to attend. It will come from parental choice and provider competition. That would really put children and parents first.

    John McClaughry
    Kirby

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