Like him or not, one has to admit that Gov. Peter Shumlin thinks big. And so it was in his second inaugural address on Thursday, in which he broke with tradition and devoted his entire speech to improving education in Vermont.
He noted Vermont's role as a national leader in many areas, as it was in being the first state to mandate public funding for universal education. The focus of Thursday's speech was "an education system that grows Vermont's prosperity."
Though Vermont is doing better economically than many other states, it can do much better. Shumlin noted an irony: "at the same time that so many Vermonters need to make more money to make life work and at the same time that so many families seek to bring their kids and loved ones back to Vermont, our employers, from border to border, are eager to find workers with the right educational skills, and they have good money to pay."
He cited technology businesess around the state who would hire Vermonters with the right skills, if they were available, including Plasan Carbon Composites and Global-Z in Bennington and Mack Molding in Arlington.
"Success in the new economy depends on an educated workforce with skills beyond high school in science, computer technology, engineering and math," he said.
The governor noted that while some 62 percent of job openings in the next decade will require a post-secondary education, only about 45 percent of Vermont students who enter the ninth grade continue education beyond high school. Moreover, the rate going on to secondary education decreases for those from families with lower incomes.
To remedy these deficiencies, Shumlin focused in on four areas. The first is strengthening the commitment to universal early childhood education. He proposes to redirect $17 million from the state's Earned Income Tax Credit to make high-quality childcare affordable to low-income families.
Among other measures, the governor proposes to make school meals more accessible to children from low-income families and to create a plan for health promotion and disease prevention. Here he cited Mount Anthony Union High School Principal Sue Maguire's work when she was principal at Molly Stark Elementary School.
"She took the resources she had available, leveraged them where she could, and provided her students a full service health center right at the school. The center provides pediatric, psychological, dental, nutrition and pre-school services on site," Shumlin said. "I have asked Sue to work with my Secretary of Human Services and my Secretary of Education to bring that same ingenuity to schools across the state."
The governor also proposed increasing dual enrollment allowing high school students to seek college credit and creating an initiative allowing students to simultaneously complete their last year of high school and first year of college. In additition he proposed ways of making college more affordable for Vermonters, especially students majoring in science and technology related fields.
Shumlin's final group of proposals focused on career readiness for students at all levels. He proposed developing a Personal Learning Plan for all students "to increase our students' personal options while fostering a connection between school and career."
Noting that at the 11th grade level, testing shows that only 36 percent of Vermont students are proficient at math, he urged requiring all 9th graders take algebra and all 10th graders take geometry.
We applaud the governor for the vision and leadership shown in this speech. Vermont's example of national leadership on education at this time is particularly important. For at the federal level, the temporarily postponed "sequestration" budget cuts set in motion in 2011 would make devastating cuts in aid to education if not offset or eliminated.
That's no way to run a country and no way to educate America's children ro excel in a global economy. Vermont has its priorities right -- again.