Category Archives: Education

Video: Vermont this Week on Vermont PBS

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal P. Goswami joined the panel Friday on Vermont This Week. Watch for an update on potential budget cuts, an education reform bill, a showdown between Gov. Peter Shumlin and the latest on MIT economist Jonathan Gruber’s woes.

Capitol Beat: Press Bureau talks education with Jill Remick

Capitol Beat

Neal Goswami and Josh O’Gorman talk education with Jill Remick of the Agency Education. The legislature is considering several aspects of education reform, primarily changes to educational districts, and Remick, the agency’s  director of communications and legislative affairs, speaks about existing local consolidation efforts, potential changes to the law, and the goals of the Agency of Education.

 

New poll touts support for removing philosophical exemption

MONTPELIER — A new poll commissioned by a pro-vaccine group shows that 68 percent of Vermonters do not believe parents should be able to opt out of vaccinating their children through the philosophical exemption in state law.

The poll, commissioned by Every Child By Two, a national nonprofit group that advocates for vaccinations, also found that 73 percent of Vermonters support efforts to change the law. The poll of 880 Vermonters was conducted by Gravis Marketing on Feb. 9 and 10. It has a 3 percent margin of error.

Every Child By Two Executive Director Amy Pisani said the results of the poll “are a clear indication that Vermont needs to take swift action to ensure that all of its kids are protected from dangerous and preventable diseases.”

“When nearly three-fourths of the residents in a state believe there should not be a philosophical exemption for vaccines, it’s time to change the law,” she said.image015

The poll could spur action on legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Kevin Mullin of Rutland, which seeks to remove the philosophical exemption. The state also allows for medical and religious exemptions, but the philosophical exemption accounts for most of the exemptions in Vermont.

Mullin proposed similar legislation in 2012. It cleared the Senate but the House, faced with strong opposition from a coalition of people advocating for parents’ rights, did not advance the measure.

Data from the Vermont Department of Health has shown that the percentage of unvaccinated children has risen in recent years.

image018Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he believes all Vermont children should be vaccinated, but he does not favor changing the state’s exemption law to eliminate the philosophical exemption. The poll found that 70 percent of Vermonters do not favor the governor’s position.

The Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice and other anti-vaccine groups are again expected to wage a strong campaign against Mullin’s legislation. But this year, the Vermont NEA, the state’s largest union that represents teachers across the state, has decided to come out in favor of the bill.

Read the poll questions and data below:

Guns, school governance and tax refund halt – Capitol Beat, Feb. 9, 2015

Play

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman discuss a public hearing coming up on Tuesday about gun legislation, a House Education Committee bill to reform school governance and why the state has temporarily halted issued tax refunds.

Video: Vermont This Week on Vermont PBS

Bureau chief Neal Goswami joins Alicia Freese of Seven Days, Taylor Dobbs of Vermont Public Radio and moderator Stewart Ledbetter on this week’s show.

Speaker Smith rallies his troops

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers, one month into the legislative session, will soon be casting tough votes on bills in committee, and then on the House and Senate floors. That fact is not lost on House Speaker Shap Smith, who looked to rally his troops Tuesday at the weekly Democratic caucus.

A state budget with a $112 million gap that must be closed means cuts will be made to programs that constituents likely depend on. And the public is demanding property tax relief, but voters don’t want to see changes to their local school districts.

Smith, now in his fourth term as speaker, knows just how a legislative session plays out. He warned his faction of the pressures that will soon wash over them as they try to address the state’s challenges.

House Speaker Shap Smith address the Democratic House Caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

House Speaker Shap Smith address the Democratic House Caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

“One of the most difficult parts for all of us … is to keep an open mind and not to close ourselves off to possible solutions to the challenges we face as we move forward. We’re going to get over the next couple of months people asking us to promise them that we won’t do X, Y or Z,” he said. “What’s really important, from my perspective, is to the extent possible, acknowledge that you understand where they’re coming from, but you can’t make them promises because you really need to see what the lay of the land is.”

The constituents, Smith declared, placed their trust and faith in those they elected. Now it’s time for those elected to begin crafting solutions. But solutions will leave some displeased.

“We’re here to grapple with those issues and those constituents send you here because they believe that you’re the person that can grapple with those issues. They trust you to make those decisions. And so have those conversations, understand what they’re thinking and feeling, and bring their voice here and tell them, ‘I want you to be part of this conversation and we can’t close this conversation off before it even starts. We can’t give you the answer before we even know what the problem is,’” Smith said.

The address Tuesday wasn’t the result of any particular concern about morale within the caucus, according to Smith aide Dylan Giambatista. Rather, it was an effort to encourage members to remain focused and ready themselves for the work ahead, he said.

Just a few minutes before the Democratic caucus, House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, delivered his own pep talk to the Republican caucus. He, too, reminded his members that the constituents sent them to Montpelier with a purpose. He urged them to consider all implications — particularly economic impacts — before casting any yes votes, even for bills in committee.

Like any good leader, Smith offered hope to his members.

“We spend some time here wrestling with really difficult issues and it is easy to look at the glass half empty rather than the glass half full,” Smith said to a room full of mostly House Democrats, but also a few lobbyists and reporters.

He recounted recent, positive meetings with tech entrepeneurs, who he said are hiring. “There was a lot of optimism about what can happen, and it wasn’t just big businesses. It was businesses ranging from three to four people to 500 to 600 people,” Smith said.

Tuesday’s pep rally ended, of course, on a high note.

“There is a really good energy going through this building right now. I feel that people are up to the challenge. That’s it’s not partisan driven. That people are looking at these as Vermont’s challenges and Vermont’s problems, not Democrats’ problems, not Republicans’ problems, not Progressives’ problems, not independents’ problems,” the speaker said. “Remember we are still sitting in a Democratic institution that still allows access to its citizens and still values solutions to problems not barriers to solutions. We’re in Montpelier, we’re not in Washington. And thank God for that, right?”

Podcast: Capitol Beat 2-2-15

Play

Vermont Press Bureau reporter Josh O’Gorman and bureau chief Neal Goswami talk education, health care and exfoliating.

Manufacturers call for less regulation, more education

MONTPELIER — Leaders in manufacturing say the nation and the state don’t need more regulations, but better regulations.

Approximately 100 people turned out Thursday for a conference hosted by Associated Industries of Vermont that looked at national and state trends in the manufacturing industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities the industry is facing.

“As you know all too well, manufacturing here in Vermont and across the country has its strengths, but there is still so much more to be done,” said Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated industries of Vermont.

The conference included remarks from Ned Monroe, senior vice-president of external affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers, who offered a big-picture perspective on the state of the industry in the United States and in Vermont.

According to Monroe, nationally, manufacturing comprises 12.5 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Vermont, approximately 31,700 people — or 10.4 percent of the workforce — are employed in the manufacturing sector, earning an average salary of $69,000 a year.

Monroe later clarified that this figure was not the average salary of a person working on an assembly line, but also included professions related to manufacturing, such as engineers and electricians.

Monroe said that between excessive regulation and having the highest corporate income taxes in the world, manufacturing in the United States is 20 percent more expensive than anywhere else.

“They can’t work in a total fog as to how they will be taxed and regulated,” said Monroe of the uncertainty faced by manufacturers. “We all want clean air and clean water and protect the beauty of the environment, but we don’t need new regulations. What we need are better regulations, because what we have now create barriers and harm global competitiveness.”

Janette Bombardier, Vermont senior location executive for IBM, echoed Monroe’s thoughts, especially when it comes to regulations created on the state level.

“There’s no need for Vermont to recreate regulations at the state level. There are plenty of federal laws already,” Bombardier said. “When you create new regulations at the state level, you create confusion.”

Bombardier also addressed another barrier to manufacturing in Vermont: the lack of skilled workers.

“We continue to have openings because we can’t find enough people,” said Bombardier, who said the starting salary at GLOBALFOUNDRIES in Essex for a person with a two-year degree is $44,000, plus benefits. “That’s a pretty good job for a 20-year-old who’s just starting out.”

According to Monroe, at the national level, 80 percent of manufacturers report that they struggle to find skilled workers.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said the expansion of manufacturing jobs in Vermont is a key component to retaining young, employed tax payers, many of whom have left the state in recent years.

“That’s the working class,” Scott said. “We’ve come to the end of the road in terms of how much can tax Vermonters.”

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, who serves on the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, said the current economic climate in Vermont offers challenges and opportunities.

“We do have some great manufacturing companies, environmental tech companies and biotech companies. We’re talking about these clean, green manufacturing jobs and they’re good jobs,” Scheuermann said. “We need to sell ourselves and we need to have a product to sell so we can show people that this is a state where things can happen.”

“The biggest takeaway for me is, we talk about not being able to keep our children in the state, but if we’re not educating them enough to take the jobs that are available, then we’re never going to be successful,” said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland.

“Economic development of jobs is a key issue, and if we can’t develop jobs, we’ll lose parents and children,” said Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Montpelier. “We’ll lose a population we can’t afford to lose. We have to be competitive.”

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

Join the conversation with the Vermont Press Bureau by following us on Facebook, Twitter and at vermontpressbureau.com. Listen for new podcasts Mondays and Fridays, and look for Capitol Beat on ORCA Media and online.

Capitol Beat Podcast 1-26-15

Play

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman talk about sugar, beagles, Vermont Health Connect and a dispute between two Penn State graduate students and the state Agency of Education.

 

Teachers and school boards disagree on labor proposal

Organizations that represent teachers and school boards disagree on a proposal that would force them to negotiate.

During his budget address last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would prohibit teachers from going on strike and school boards from imposing working conditions, and instead require both sides to enter into binding arbitration.

“We should pass legislation prohibiting both teacher strikes and board-imposed contracts, while requiring both sides to resolve differences through third-party decision-making when negotiation fails,” Shumlin said at the time.

For the Vermont-NEA and the Vermont School Boards Association, which represent teachers and school board members in the State House, the proposal, for the most part, is palatable.

“We understand that strikes are very disruptive to the communities where they occur. The vast majority of contracts are settled without strikes and imposition,” said Nicole Mace, general counsel for the Vermont School Boards Association, which supports the idea of prohibiting teacher strikes and contract imposition.

Teacher strikes in Vermont are few and far between, according to statistics from the Vermont-NEA, which cites 26 strikes in the more than 40 years that teachers have been permitted to collectively bargain, including seven in the past 10 years.

During the past 10 years, school boards have imposed contracts on their teachers 10 times, most recently in the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union in 2012.

“Since the late ‘90s, the Vermont-NEA has been willing to forgo the right to strike if, and only if, school boards forgo the right to impose working conditions and both parties enter into binding arbitration,” said Darren Allen, communications director for the Vermont-NEA.

That last bit about binding arbitration is what’s standing in the way of total agreement on both sides. While it supports the proposition of prohibiting strikes and contract imposition, the Vermont School Boards Association has adopted a resolution opposing the requirement that both sides enter into binding arbitration.

“Binding-interest arbitration tends to maintain the status quo,” Mace said. “It will perpetuate current contracts, many of which were negotiated 30 years ago, and in many cases those contract frameworks continue to exist.”

Allen asserts that it is the school boards, not the teachers, that are standing in the way of changing the way both sides negotiate.

“The biggest concession here is that a labor group is willing to forgo their most powerful tool. It is school boards that are standing in the way and preserving the status quo,” Allen said.

Currently, Vermont is one of 12 states that allow teachers to strike. If lawmakers were to adopt Shumlin’s proposal, Vermont would join five other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland and Nevada — that prohibit strikes and require binding arbitration.

Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said she is in favor of legislation that would prohibit teacher strikes.

“Ultimately, I think schools are essential services. It’s not only the way we educate our students, but parents rely on them to keep to keep their children safe, and for the neediest of our children, it’s the place where they get most of their nutritious meals,” Holcombe said. “Just like we expect our road crews to show up when it’s snowing, we need our teachers to show up in the classroom.”

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

Join the conversation with the Vermont Press Bureau by following us on Facebook, Twitter and at vermontpressbureau.com. Listen for new podcasts Mondays and Fridays, and look for Capitol Beat on ORCA Media and online.

Video: Capitol Beat on ORCA with Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith sits down with Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman to discuss the first two weeks of the legislative session.

Capitol Beat podcast for 1-19-15

Play

On this week’s episode, Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman discuss Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget, his education proposals and a study released Friday about legalizing pot in Vermont. Subscribe on the iTunes store to the Vermont Press Bureau’s podcasts.

Text of Gov. Shumlin’s budget address

In speech at GOP fundraiser, Christie offers self up as “blueprint” for Republican resurgence

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (courtesy photo)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (courtesy photo)

“Candidates matter.”

That was the message from the Republican governor of New Jersey Wednesday night as he regaled nearly 700 members of the Vermont GOP with the story of his own unlikely rise to prominence in a state where politics tend to run the same shade of blue as in Vermont.

“Here’s our message: candidates matter. Candidates matter more than money. Candidates matter more than data mining… Candidates matter more than TV commercials and they matter more than mail pieces and they matter more than those incredibly annoying automated phone calls. They matter more than any of that,” Christie said Wednesday.

Media were barred from attending Wednesday’s fundraising gala at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction, but an audio recorder belonging to the Vermont Press Bureau made it past the gates. In addition to Christie, the recording captured speeches delivered by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, who were among the lead organizers of an event they say marked the dawn of a new era in the Vermont Republican Party. Continue reading

Progs slam Shumlin over plan to fund childcare by cutting benefits to poor

A group of Progressive lawmakers this afternoon took an aggressive stance against Peter Shumlin’s first high-profile proposal of 2013, saying his “half-baked” plan to fund new childcare subsidies would “pit working families against one another.”

Shumlin won plaudits last week for proposing that Vermont spend an additional $17 million on childcare subsidies for low-income parents. But his plan to fund it – reducing an “earned income tax credit” that now delivers refund checks to more than 40,000 low-income tax filers – has drawn a scathing rebuke.

At a press conference in the Cedar Creek room, Rep. Chris Pearson, a Burlington Progressive, said it can’t be considered a “serious proposal.”

I have yet to hear from any Democrat who supports this idea. Republicans have articulated their concerns, and Progressives are solidly opposed to this funding scheme,” Pearson said.

Pearson said Vermont needs to move ahead with the additional childcare subsidies, but that “there is no reason to cut the most effective anti-poverty program in Vermont” to do it.

Pearson and Sen. Anthony Pollina said a small increase on the tax rates of wealthy Vermonters would easily cover the cost.

It’s odd, Pearson said, that Shumlin last year rejected their proposed tax hike on people making more than $373,000 per year as a “broad-based tax increase.”

He said he was opposed to broad-based tax increases, even though our proposal lat year only impacted about 4,000 families,” Pearson said. “By contrast, this proposal hits over 40,000.”

After the press conference, Secretary of Human Services Doug Racine again defended the plan. Vermont has limited resources with which to help lower-income residents, Racine says, And he and the governor believe the $17 million will deliver more value to Vermont families if it’s reallocated in the form of a childcare subsidy.

Racine also says that Vermont’s tax code has become more progressive in the 25 years since the EITC was created, something that has benefited financially the people who would be affected by the proposed reduction.

Pearson said he thinks the whole episode may just be an elaborate political play.

Gov. Shumlin is a skilled politician, and I fear this is a diversionary tactic,” Pearson said. “Perhaps he hopes his laughable revenue plan will be enough to distract lawmakers and advocates from the budget cuts we expect next week,” Pearson said. “We will not be distracted. We will work tirelessly to protect those who the economic boom of previous decades has left behind.”