Rising costs per pupil and rural and small schools that are unable to provide excellent instruction in core subjects have generated a long overdue conversation about the future of Vermont schools. While consolidation of governance and -- in some cases -- schools may be necessary, the closing of schools in some locations would accelerate the decline of already struggling rural communities by leaving children with long commutes to schools in other parts of the state. We also need to look for ways to reform our education system, including the use of innovative new models for delivering excellent education in a rural setting and technology to provide individualized learning tools to all corners of the state.

As we make advances in primary education, we must also help the next generation of Vermonters pursue higher degrees. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 3 low-income high school graduates go on to any kind of higher education. It is imperative for the prosperity of our state that we help our low-income youth pursue higher education.

The elements necessary for a child to succeed are excellent teachers, the best tools and resources, continuing education outside of the classroom, and parental involvement. We must:

  • Invest in distance learning - There is a revolution happening around the country in teacher-assisted distance learning. Innovators in Vermont are helping to lead this revolution by changing how we engage students in the learning process. The Young Writer’s Project and 3D Vermont have demonstrated how new ways of engaging students in core curriculum subjects leads to better outcomes; these strategies should be expanded across the state. With coordination of distance-learning curricula and a modest investment in videoconferencing, students in any school in the state will be able to participate in a class with students in other locations through video conference and local teacher assistance.  Students will still receive individual attention from local teachers, but this distance-learning strategy  will provide the best of both educational approaches to our children.
  • Eliminate redundant services - In my business and public sector career, I have always addressed cost issues by centralizing common functions and ensuring that resources are sent where they are most needed. There are few reasons to duplicate common administrative functions at the local level.  
    • Examples of these services are Electronic Student Records and Payroll.
  • Offer courses for 21st Century jobs - Schools should offer courses on coding, FIRST Robotics, 3D printing, and more. We should specifically direct these initiatives at girls who, because of traditional assumptions, have been largely left out of the innovation revolution. We need to commit to teaching every Vermont 6th grader to code.
  • Empower schools and teachers to reinvent education delivery, and provide clear guidance on best practices for investment in technology - School leaders and teachers need the opportunity to reinvent themselves based on proven best practices. Requirements like the number of square feet necessary for a given activity are antiquated and can constrain creative school leaders, teachers, and librarians who want to reinvent their schools.  In addition, the state needs to provide best-practice information and clear guidelines for technology investment; no one needs an expensive smartboard, and you won’t see one at any technology company I’ve worked for. On the other side, the Agency of Education can invest in statewide contracts for truly effective technology (e.g., netbooks, programmable calculators, and high-quality microphones for videoconferencing) and provide training to make sure that teachers and principals make the best use of these tools.
  • Cover much more of Special Education statewide - The arrival of young people with significant special education needs can generate chaos in budget planning at a given school and stigmatize the special-needs students and their families. We can pay for extraordinary special education at the state level, using general fund dollars to provide high quality services in students' own communities and more stability (or predictability) for local school boards.
  • Pay for non-education activities with general fund dollars - Increasingly, the vast array of social services provided to our children and families are delivered through our K-12 system.  In many cases, this is for the right reason, as schools are the best place to engage these families in need of these services.  However, the transfer of these expenditures to the regressive property tax results in a regressive tax source, which eventually punishes schools. It also distorts the amount of resources necessary to address our most critical human services issues.
  • Invest in early education and early intervention - The more we invest early, the greater the payoff in cost and education achievement. In fact, there is an inverse relationship at work here; the longer we wait to invest in a child, the less impact that investment will have. We need to continue to build this capacity, with qualified teachers giving all children a great start and the best chance to avoid the need for special education services down the road.
  • Investment in higher education - The future of our economy depends on excellent higher education. We need to:
    • Structure partnerships with regional entrepreneurship centers (including colleges like RIT and Dartmouth).
    • Encourage the creation of new higher education startups to grow our knowledge economy. (Champlain College, Center for Cartoon Studies, and Vermont College of Fine Arts are all examples of economic development through new higher education.)
    • Provide resources to help our state colleges and university provide online content to low-residency Vermont programs and unique offerings around the globe.

Ensure more Vermonters can graduate debt-free - Middle-class Vermonters have one of the highest financial barriers to higher education in the country. I am proposing a Vermont Service Scholarship Program that would allow anyone who completes two years of national service in AmeriCorps or the military to graduate from any of our state colleges or UVM debt free. We need to focus our resources on ensuring that Vermonters can benefit from one of our excellent in-state institutions and walk away without the crushing burden of college debt.


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