• Speaking of students
    April 02,2012

    Speaking of students

    Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the interest of students was foremost in our consideration when H.440, An Act Relating to Creating an Agency of Education and Amending the Membership and Purpose of the State Board of Education, was passed unanimously in the House Education Committee? Does anyone think that politics isn’t already prevalent in the state’s administration of the public education system? Can school board members name anyone on the State Board of Education or cite what they do?

    The editorial of March 24, “Unnecessary fix for schools,” fans the political flames as if it didn’t exist before. Politics have been part of how public education has been provided for 235 years. In 1777 the constitution required “a school or schools to be established in each town” and be funded locally. In the mid-1800s Common Schools were adopted to establish uniform quality standards. Over 2,500 schools were governed and funded by local districts until the Legislature in 1892 mandated town school districts, thereby creating the only consolidation of school districts that exist today of just under 300. Supervisory unions were formed in the early 1900’s and union high schools were created in the mid 60’s. All of these initiatives were resisted locally, and over 20 legislative attempts for school district consolidation have failed during the past 100 years.

    The Picus report was released in early January and stated Act 60 and 68 provided tax equity but also highlighted student outcome disparity throughout the state. We are spending a lot per student, highest in the country; nearly $17,000, and the results are mixed. By national standards Vermont is always ranked amongst the top five, but we are mid-range in New England. Achievement based on the income gap has remained unchanged for the past 10 years at around 15 percent.

    Public education has been strongly supported. At current count, less than 10 budgets have been defeated this year. Support is not in dispute, but can we do better is.

    The dynamic between state and local control can be viewed as healthy. The state controls school standards, and local boards control curriculum and budgets. But, after Act 60 was passed in 1997 there has been a strong shift to concern of cost, now about $1.4B, and what role the state plays in how the state raises the money and what we are getting for it.

    An example of what might be gained by including the Agency of Education into the cabinet is the wide disconnect between services provided to students in schools and services provided to families in communities. Tens of millions of dollars are spent on both fronts with little coordination. It’s time that Agency of Human Services and the Agency of Education work better together.

    As I began, I will end with a question. Wouldn’t it be nice if Vermont became known as the education state, where students are best prepared from the earliest ages to when they pass on to higher education or to the workforce, and we all take credit for this shared commitment?

    Representative Peter Peltz


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