Category Archives: Education

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.”

Shumlin turns focus on schools, pledges new money for education

A governor who spent his first two years in office vowing to grow jobs says he’ll spend his second term creating workers.

In an inaugural address that focused almost solely on education, Gov. Peter Shumlin said he’ll cultivate a skilled workforce to fill the hundreds of open positions for which employers tell him they cannot find qualified workers.

“At the same time that so many Vermonters need to make more money to make life work … our employers, from border to border, are eager to find workers with the right educational skills – and they have good money to pay,” Shumlin said.

The House chamber was packed Thursday with lawmakers, high-ranking administration officials, media and Vermont citizens who traveled to witness the inaugural ceremony. In a break from tradition, Shumlin focused the entirety of his State of the State on a single topic, saying public education has failed to adapt quickly enough to a rapidly evolving technology economy.

“Success in the new economy depends on an educated workforce with skills beyond high school in science, computer technology, computer engineering and math,” Shumlin said. “I ask you: is Vermont prepared to meet this challenge? Are we ready to harness this opportunity so critical to our future prosperity? The plain truth is, we are not.”

Shumlin said 62 percent of job openings in the next decade will require post-secondary education, yet only about 45 percent of Vermont students “who begin ninth grade continue their education past high school.”

Shumlin said the education gap is particularly stark for children from poor famlies.

“With the vast amount of money that we spend per pupil in Vermont, we have failed to move low-income Vermont kids beyond high school,” Shumlin said.

Solving the problem means structural reforms and heightened taxpayer investment on everything from early childhood education to higher education.

“It is long past time for us to put our money where our mouths have been, and strengthen our commitment to universal early childhood education,” he said.

As is custom, the State of the State was more high-level vision than nuts-and-bolts game plan. But the Shumlin put forth  some specific proposals. Among them:


-Redirect $17 million from the earned income tax credit and use it to subsidize childcare for lower-income parents. This “largest single investment in early childhood education in Vermont’s history”  would double state spending on childcare for low-income families.

“There is no bigger obstacle to Vermont parent who want to work or advance than the high cost of quality childcare,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin said his budget – to be unveiled on Jan. 24 – will also include fund to “initiate” publicly funded preschools where they don’t currently exist.


-Increase state appropriations to state colleges and the University of Vermont by 3 percent next year. The excess funds would be earmarked solely for financial aid and scholarships for Vermonters. Shumlin says the budget increase will be enough to hold all Vermont students harmless from any tuition hikes next year.


-Vermont Strong Scholars Program: a “simple” program wherein students who graduate from a Vermont college or university with a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics field, get their last year of tuition paid for by the state. The money would be paid out over five years. People who graduate with an associates degree in a “STEM” field get their last semester of tuition paid for over three years.


-Personal Learning Plans that “travel with each student from elementary through their senior year.” The plans would tie educational goals to career opportunities, “making school more relevant.”


-Double funding for the so-called “dual enrollment” program that allows students to gain college credits while they’re in high school. Shumlin said he also wants to expand the number of students permitted to simultaneously complete their senior year of high school and first year of college.


-Vermont Innovation Zones: use technical education centers as centers where regional employers could help devise education plans that would prepare students for jobs that would be available upon graduation.

Vilaseca to head newly minted Agency of Education

Last year, Gov. Peter Shumlin won legislation to endow his office will increased power over public education. On Thursday, he announced the appointment of the man he says will help him exert it.

Armando Vilaseca has been named to serve as Vermont’s first-ever secretary of education, a cabinet-level post whose allegiance to the governor will lend the executive branch unprecedented influence over education policy in the state.

Until now, the commissioner of education has answered to the nine-member State Board of Education, a century-old arrangement conceived to help insulate public education from the ideological bent of politicians.

Shumlin though convinced lawmakers last year that the system had prevented the state’s top elected officeholder from enacting needed reforms in one of government’s central roles.

Vilaseca has served as commissioner of education for the last four years and was among the three candidates nominated for the secretary’s post by the State Board of Education.

Shumlin said otday that in Vilaseca, he’s found a steady hand to lead the transition.

“I was lucky to have three strong candidates for the secretary’s post, but with my expansive education agenda, making a change in leadership right now does not make sense and I have confidence Armando is the right person to be sure we don’t miss a beat in the coming months,” Shumlin said.

Asked during a press conference what exactly his “expansive” agenda contains, Shumlin said he wanted to save details for a big reveal in his State of the State address next week.

Vilaseca headlined a slew of executive-branch job announcements Thursday, including the appointment of former House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche to serve as deputy secretary of commerce and community development.

Leriche is currently working under contract for Green Mountain Power.

Shumlin said more changes are in store for an Agency of Commerce to which he has decided to enact structural changes.

Under former Gov. James Douglas, the Department of Economic Development was folded into commerce. Shumlin said economic development demands fulltime focus, and that he is reestablishing the department so that he can appoint a dedicated commissioner.

The search for that position is underway.

Among the other executive staff changes:

  • Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter will return to her role as deputy secretary of transportation; her deputy, Dave Rapaport, will become the new Irene Czar
  • Susan Allen, who in her first-term role as “special assistant to the governor” served as spokeswoman and communications chief, will take on the deputy chief of staff post being vacated by outgoing Alex MacLean. Allen, formerly managing editor of the Times Argus, will continue to handle public and press relations
  • Former Lamoille County Sen. Susan Bartlett, who spent the first term as a special assistant to the governor, will take a new job in the Agency of Human resources, where she will coordinate a range of projects for the administration
  • A former representative from Johnson, Floyd Nease – he served as House Majority Leader prior to Leriche – will serve as director of systems integration at the Agency of Human Services. Shumlin said Nease has been asked to streamline the delivery of services to vulnerable families

Pot decrim and death with dignity? According to Shumlin, “we’re going to get them done.”

From death with dignity to marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday said he aims to seal the deal on several notable pieces of unfinished business from the last legislative biennium.

Shumlin in his first term was unable to deliver on some of his highest-profile legislative initiatives, including union rights for child care workers. At a morning press conference Tuesday, Shumlin said he’s confident lawmakers will send those bills to his desk in 2013.

“I’m confident that regardless of who leads the various bodies in the Legislature, that we can pass decriminalization of marijuana, death with dignity and the (unionization) bill for childcare workers,” Shumlin said. “We’re going to get them done.”

Key lawmakers aren’t so sure.

Sen. John Campbell, the Windsor County Democrat aiming for a second term as Senate president later this afternoon, was the Statehouse’s most prominent opponent to the death with dignity and childcare unionization bills. He said Tuesday his positions on those issues have not evolved in recent months, and that he’s not convinced either has the support needed to make it through the Legislature.

Campbell, however, said he won’t try to squelch a vote on any death with dignity legislation. In fact he said the topic in 2013 will receive more attention from Senate committees than it did in either of the last two sessions.

“I recognize that this issue is not going to go away, and if the majority of people want to have a debate, then that debate should happen,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he envisions joint hearings between Senate committees on  judiciary and health and welfare. He said the hearings come in response to requests for additional debate from people on both sides of the issue.

“If it passes it passes. If it doesn’t it doesn’t,” Campbell said. “But I think everyone involved in this conversation agrees there are issues that need to be vetted, so I think it’s worth taking the time to vet them.”

Look for more on the governor’s wishlist for 2013, and what lawmakes have to say about it, in tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Treasurer’s Race Profile: Wilton & Pearce

From the Sunday Rutland Herald and Times Argus:

Wendy Wilton

Beth Pearce






By David Taube | Staff Writer

MONTPELIER — The two most prominent candidates for state treasurer are an incumbent who points to a track record of savings to taxpayers and a challenger who sees alarming shortfalls in funds.

One of the most closely watched statewide races for this year’s General Election is between Democrat Beth Pearce, the state treasurer, and Republican Wendy Wilton, the Rutland city treasurer.

“We’ve got serious deficits we got to deal with,” said Wilton, who says her city’s $5 million deficit has become a $3.8 million positive fund balance during her time as treasurer.

The pair’s viewpoints clash in several key areas, including pension reform, how debt affects bond ratings, and when one should issue financial forecasts of the state’s proposed single-payer health system.

The campaigns also have made personal and professional issues part of the race, concerning whether it’s questionable if a top state official rents or owns a home and how much overtime is acceptable in the treasurer’s office.

Read the full article here at the Times Argus >>>

And, don’t miss: Rutland officials say Wilton was a key part of the team by Gordon Dritschilo

Debate over vaccine bill takes interesting financial twist

Until now, the debate over whether to revoke the philosophical exemption in Vermont’s immunization laws has centered largely on competing views of social justice. The argument could soon turn to dollars and cents, however, as school districts begin to consider the financial impact of reduced enrollment.

At a special meeting last week, members of the Waitsfield Elementary School Board pondered the toll of the proposed legislation on their student count. With 12 children enrolled in Waitsfield under the philosophical exemption – about 8 percent of the entire student population – board members say the bill could deal a blow to the balance sheets.

States can’t force parents to get their kids vaccinated, but they can make it a prerequisite for attending public or private school. Every child entering kindergarten in Vermont must be inoculated against eight communicable diseases, including measles, mumps, polio and chicken pox.

Rather than acquiesce with the proposed legislation, however, school officials worry parents may simply pull their children from school altogether, and educate them at home.

“While I can not predict what people will do, some families have indicated that they are firmly committed to that philosophical exemption and should they lose such an option, they will have no choice but to withdraw from our school,” Kaiya Korb, principal at Waitsfield Elementary, said in an email.

Finley said she doesn’t anticipate any substantial impacts on student enrollment. But Rep. Adam Greshin, an Independent fromWarren, said he believes state officials are underestimating the intensity of many parents’ convictions.

“Schools like Waitsfield are already struggling with declining enrolment, and this legislation will accelerate it,” Greshin said. “If supporters of this bill think that parents are going to just throw in the towel and bring their children to the doctor to get immunized, they’re wrong.”

You can read more about the debate in tomorrow’s Times Argus and rutland Herald.

Property tax rate likely headed up another penny

Look for the statewide property tax rate to jump another penny before lawmakers adjourn this year.

The House last month approved a 1-cent increase in the statewide rate, bringing the figure from 87 cents to 88 cents. But that was before Vermonters headed to town meeting. And the school budgets approved last Tuesday, lawmakers learned today, included much higher increases than legislators had projected.

The 88-cent property tax rate presumed a 1.7-percent increase in school spending. After Tuesday’s votes – budgets in all but seven districts were approved – the increase looks to be closer to 3 percent, according to legislative analysts testifying before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Maintaining the 88-cent rate would bring the reserve in the education fund down to 3.5 percent, well below the 5-percent lawmakers tend to maintain.

“We probably need another penny, is my guess,” said Rep. Janet Ancel, chairwoman of Ways and Means. “But I think we anticipated that would happen.”

School districts also anticipated the increase – most based their budget and tax calculations on an 89-cent statewide property tax rate.

Brad James, finance guru at the Department of Education, said he directed inquiring business managers atVermontschool districts to go ahead and assume the rate would increase by another penny before the end of the session.

School budgets by and large won the support of voters Tuesday. Of the 226 budget votes, only seven went down. Districts collectively will spend about 2.9 percent more next year than they did this year. Twenty-two towns have yet to vote on their school budgets, though those districts aren’t large enough to impact the overall spending trajectory.

Gov. Peter Shumlin had urged districts to hold the line on school spending. Doing so, he said, would allow the state to likewise hold the line on statewide property taxes.

Peter Shumlin, unfiltered…

Peter Shumlin

File Photo

At his weekly press conference earlier today, Gov. Peter Shumlin, as per usual, offered thoughts and opinions on a range of questions posed by the press. A rundown for you:


“I had incredibly productive conversations with fellow governors as well as three lengthy conversations with the president and several conversations with the vice-president. Really the focus was on jobs, education and renewable energy.”

Shumlin said he talked “extensively” with Barack Obama about extending the production tax credit for renewable energy industries. The credits, he said, have resulted in Vermont companies “building windmills in Barre, solar trackers in Burlington. And we need to have … (renewable energy) tax credits in order to grow and prosper and get off our addiction to oil. (Members of the NGA) urged Congress to extend the current renewable tax credits and incentives for four years, giving the industry predictability and allowing manufacturing jobs to continue to prosper.”


“We’re thrilled he’s coming, and he’s excited about coming. I made it clear to him he’s the first president in 17 years to come to Vermont… I have a close relationship with the president. Continue reading

VSEA announces new director

After a months-long search, the Vermont State Employees Association has finally named a new executive director.

Mark Mitchell comes to Vermont by way of San Francisco, where he most recently served as a labor representative for the California Nurses Association. He fills the position departed by Jes Kraus, who left the VSEA to take a job at UVM.

Mitchell joins the labor organization as it continues to feel its way with the Democratic governor it helped elect last year. The relationship between the VSEA and the Shumlin administration has been a rocky one, to say the least. Shumlin won plaudits from pro-labor groups earlier this year when he went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker over workers’ rights. He has since alienated some of those same groups by taking to task the approximately 90 state workers who filed an Irene-related labor grievance.

“It’s great to be joining the VSEA family, and I look forward to working with Vermont state employees to protect and enhance the historic wage, benefit and working condition victories of all the VSEA members who came before them,” Mitchell said in a statement.

Mitchell arrives as the VSEA preps for what could be a acrimonious battle over state employees’ next labor contract. The VSEA will be looking for a restoration of the 3-percent pay cut they absorbed two years ago to help the state out of a fiscal jam. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding has not thus far indicated a willingness to capitulate.

Mitchell sought to strike an optimistic early tone.

“Coming from California, I know how hard it is out there for working people in these tough economic times. Vermont has not been immune, and a lot of state employees have been impacted, but, now, working with a Governor and Legislature that VSEA members helped elect, I’m hopeful Vermont can be a model for the rest of the nation, in terms of seeing the results of a respectful and collaborative relationship, as opposed to a combative one,” he said.

Prior to working for the CNA, Mitchell, a labor professional and lawyer, was employed by the Florida Education Association, IFPTE Local 20 (Engineers and Scientists), AFSCME District Council 36, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the Writer’s Guild of America and the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, according to a VSEA press release. His duties ran the gamut, from lawyer to organizer to business agent to negotiator to strike coordinator.

Jab and parry over ed taxes begins

Republicans seem to think they’ve found a chink in the armor of fiscal conservatism Peter Shumlin has donned since his election last year.

The governor last week sought to put an upbeat spin on dour news that statewide education tax rates are headed for a 2-cent increase. Vermonters can avoid the rate hike, Shumlin said, if only they tell their school boards to level-fund budgets local schools.

Republicans, however, say it’s Shumlin – not community school boards – who needs to shoulder the blame for higher tax bills. The Shumlin administration earlier this year authored a provision in the budget bill that reduced the annual contribution from the general fund to education fund by $27 million.

The move ameliorated a general-fund shortfall that had threatened the delivery of human-services programs. Rep. Oliver Olsen though says it created a hole in the ed fund that property-tax payers will now have to backfill.

Olsen and Rep. Patti Komline fired off a missive Monday taking Shumlin and other Democrats to task.

“In effect, the Legislature legalized a perpetual raid on the education fund, leaving Vermont property taxpayers to foot the bill for years to come,” Olsen said in a statement.

Komline, meanwhile, likened to move to outright theft.

“For the past two years, local school boards have worked hard to relieve the property tax burden by keeping costs down. Unfortunately, Montpelier will pocket those savings, even as the Governor sets up school boards to take the blame for increased property taxes next year,” Komline said.

It’s a line of attack you can expect to see more of as the 2012 political season heats up.

McDonald to Shumlin: Use bully pulpit to help end strike

Gov. Peter Shumlin was eager to chastize state employees who filed a grievance seeking double pay for work performed after Tropical Storm Irene.

Now Vermont GOP chairwoman Pat McDonald wants Shumlin to use the bully pulpit to criticize another group of public sector employees: the teachers who continue to strike in southern Vermont.

"It is outrageous that this strike has gone on for so long, and it's time for the Governor to speak up and tell the striking teachers to get back to work," said McDonald in a written statement issued Friday. "Parents need to get back to their jobs, and kids need to get back into the classroom.  As Vermont's Commissioner of Education put it earlier this week, it is time to stand up for the silent victims of strikes: students."

Will Shumlin weigh in? Stay tuned.

– Thatcher Moats

Education guru preaches revolution at Burlington teacher conference

BURLINGTON – Reknowned worldwide for his provocative theories on education, Ken Robinson, whose lectures have been viewed by more than 200 million people in 150 countries, called on Vermont teachers and students Thursday to become leaders in a pedagogical revolution.
Robinson, who won acclaim globally when online videos of his TED Conference lectures went viral, warned about 800 teachers, students, principals and other educational leaders of “the other climate crisis” facing the world.
During his hour-long speech at the Ira Allen Chapel on the campus of the University of Vermont, Robinson said the country’s one-size-fits-all approach to schooling is destroying human minds in much the same way climate change threatens natural resources, “and with the same disastrous consequences.”
“We’ve industrialized ourselves the way we’ve industrialized the productions process,” said Robinson, who was born and raised in Liverpool and now lives in Los Angeles, Calif.
“When (education) stops being personal, people get out of it,” he said. “And when politicians say we can’t personalize it for everyone, we can’t afford it, my answer is, we can’t afford not to. Because it won’t work otherwise.”
Robinson’s lecture kicked off a daylong education conference that aims to bring new energy to the so-called “transformation” process kicked off by state education officials three years ago.
Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca, on hand for Thursday’s events, said his department is working to realize the “customized, personalized” approach to education that Robinson championed.
“It doesn’t have to be about kids schlepping from classroom to classroom for four years anymore,” Vilaseca said. “We can create personalized curricula that tap into the passion of an individual child, and that’s how we get our kids to realize their potential.”
Chuck Scranton, head of the Rowland Foundation, which sponsored the conference, said his organization is eyeing a “bottom-up” approach that looks to individual teachers – as opposed to systemic reforms – to initiate a “revolution” in teaching.
“Transformation in education is improving student performance by making schools more relevant and learning more authentic,” Scranton said. “I think today is a huge catalyst for us as an organization.”
Since 2009, the Rowland Foundation, a Londonderry-based nonprofit endowed by its family namesakes, has awarded $100,000 grants to 17 Vermont teachers. The aim, Scranton says, is to give them the time and resources they need to pursue an educational innovation, and then integrate their ideas into the public school system.
“This is about changing the way people think about teaching,” Scranton said. “It’s about changing the way children think about learning.”
Vilaseca said proposed changes in curriculum standards will give teachers the structural flexibility they need to pursue classroom innovations. For instance, Vilaseca said, students will soon be able to earn core credits for internships or other real-life experiences conducted outside the walls of their high school.
“High school doesn’t have to look the way it did when I was in school,” Vilaseca said. “All learning doesn’t have to happen inside those four walls. And the learning that does happen there can be happening in different ways.”

-Peter Hirschfeld | Bureau Chief