Quality Education for Every Vermont Child
Public Education is the Key to Democracy
A strong public education system is the foundation of a thriving democracy. Education can and should be exciting for every Vermont child and should offer Vermont families the support and encouragement they need to help their children succeed in school. Ever since I was first elected to the Vermont Senate in 1982, the well-being of Vermont's children has been my passion. I have been deeply involved with finding solutions to a wide range of problems affecting children and families in Vermont. I am proud of the work I did as Lieutenant Governor to make sure that every child in Vermont had the same opportunity for a good education.
At the same time, I recognize that the cost of our education system is rising and that the burden on our property taxes is too much for some Vermonters to bear. I believe there are solutions to our education funding problem that will not reduce the quality of the education we provide. I am open to the idea of consolidating our school districts to reduce administrative costs, but I do not support mandating this consolidation -- it must be a local choice. With or without consolidation, the state can help to find administrative savings for school districts. As governor, I will support and explore any ideas for removing inefficiencies from the education funding system, but I will not waver in my commitment to providing a quality education to every Vermont child.
Cooperation is critical
As governor my first priority for education will be to re-establish a cooperative relationship between state government and our local school boards, educators, administrators, and families. This relationship should be marked by partnership, respect, and a willingness to share ideas. Having served on the Mount Mansfield Union school board from 2005 to 2008, I know how hard our school boards work and will bring the perspective of a former board member to the governor's office. I also know that our educators are important for the well-being of our children, and we have some of the best here in Vermont.
Under the Douglas administration, the focus is always on the problems, but no solutions are suggested, and there is no dialogue. This attitude will change dramatically under my administration. I will reach out to educators, school boards, and superintendents and ask them how we can bring down costs, raise graduation rates, address special education needs, and consolidate and cut where it's appropriate. I will listen to their ideas. The result will be sensible, effective policy that makes progress toward our fundamental goal -- a better education for all of our children.
Children must be ready to learn
In order for our children to succeed in the classroom, they need to arrive there healthy, well fed, and from a supportive home. Currently, too many of our children come to school from families in poverty, and the odds are stacked against them. Low-income students constitute almost a third of the children in Vermont schools. In 2008, more than 25 percent of low-income high school seniors did not graduate from high school with their peers. We can do better.
Families who are struggling economically need support to make education a priority. As governor I will explore ways to integrate existing community programs and social service networks for low-income Vermonters with our school systems. We need effective afterschool and summer programs, mental health services, and counseling for parents. We must also make affordable, high-quality early childcare available for families either at home or in a quality childcare setting. Adult education classes should also be offered at our local schools, because additional education is often a stepping stone out of poverty.
High school needs special attention
High school, especially 9th grade, is often a very challenging time for young people. As governor, I would build on the transformation work the Department of Education is already engaged in to ensure that our high schools are relevant for all of our students. I would also work to make sure that our high school students have the support and encouragement they need to achieve their own personal goals, whether those goals lead to college, other specialized training, or straight to work.
Vocational training centers around the state have already shown great success in preparing many Vermont high school students for successful careers in the trades they love. We should expand and strengthen this system so that we are providing workforce training for a wide variety of careers. At the same time, we must ensure that this focus on training does not come at the expense of a well rounded education. By coordinating with our colleges and universities we can provide college level courses and credits to high school students who are ready for them, making the transition to a higher education in their field seamless. As governor, I would also work with the Community College of Vermont to ensure we are providing as many educational opportunities as possible to our youth, as well as for Vermonters who are looking to improve their skills for their careers.
We need more higher education opportunities
The costs of higher education continue to rise. Just as we need systemic reform in the health care field, I believe we need systemic reform in the higher education field as well. As governor, I will work toward that reform, and look for ways to bend the cost curve for Vermont families. I will focus on strengthening our Community College system, as well as working with our state colleges to offer more higher education opportunities beyond the traditional degrees. We should be flexible and offer alternative ways for students of all ages to build skills and explore topics of interest.
Further, our state college system, and particularly the growing emphasis on training for the "green" economy, must be supported and expanded. Vermont Technical College has been particularly successful in beginning to train our young people for the wide range of jobs in the emerging green economy, from green design to manufacturing to renewable energy delivery. As governor I want to encourage that approach through the development of satellite campuses throughout the state to make attendance at the University of Vermont and our state colleges easier for all Vermonters. Vermont should seek to lead the nation in the per capita number of graduates from its state colleges going to work in the emerging green sector. In conjunction with this focus in our higher education, our economic development efforts should continue to attract these industries so that we can employ these graduates here at home. We can take advantage of a great opportunity here, but only with a coordinated effort with our higher education institutions.