I recently took a moment to read Campaign for Vermont’s full education position paper titled "Putting Children First" on the organization’s website, campaignforvermont.org.
While I had a prior understanding of some of CFV’s stances and proposals on other issues such as economic development, job creation, energy policy and government ethics and accountability, I knew very little about CFV’s position in regards to education.
After reading "Putting Children First," I came away with both a better understanding of Vermont’s current state of education, as well the thought that changes in the allocation of our resources and the structure of decision making bodies could boost our education system and improve the choices for our children.
A few areas of CFV’s proposals that generate "what if’ scenarios for me were: Vermont has the most administrators and teachers per student of any state in New England and Vermont’s ratios of students to administrators and teachers is among the lowest in the nation. What if we were able to move current administrative money resources to address specific shortcomings such as science, math and engineering or extra tutoring for our challenged learners? CFV makes a key recommendation for such a transformation in its education proposal: Scale back Vermont’s 64 supervisory unions and implement a much smaller number of education districts made up of local and union school board representatives and guided by the various schools boards in each district. Such enhancement of local control would save Vermont tax payers more than $160 million while enhancing the efficiency of school management.
What if we were able to achieve enhancement of local control via this plan, giving the local systems the benefit of economies of scale and choice? We could leave the state’s role as more of a support function to our education system with special grants, tax policy guidance, research or teacher training curriculums. It’s also very probable that education districts could utilize a wider pool of citizen, educator and special expertise to benefit local results.
Additionally, if all or even a portion of the projected savings are put back into programs, tools and technology in our schools, we will be providing an even higher level of education to our students than we’re currently able to deliver.
Based on the CFV data, Vermont’s current education spending is third highest in the nation on a per-student basis. Our hearts are in the right place but additional tax dollars are hard to come by. What if we were able to divert more of the administration budget to help the human resources of our education system, providing a more supportive environment for teachers based on a combination of targeted compensation, educational resources and training? In short, Vermont has a very well-funded education system that produces good results but we could better promote and strengthen our Vermont education brand like we have for our specialty foods industry. While there are always advantages and disadvantages to most types of restructuring, without question I believe that the CFV proposal does in fact put our students first by directing our tax dollars more towards quality resources that directly impact student outcomes. This will aid in attracting and retaining the best teachers, attracting more employers to locate in Vermont and will help to make certain that our state produces the best-prepared citizens to prosper in Vermont or in the larger world.
Our education system is our best hope for boosting our economy and helping the disadvantaged, as well as ensuring all our children have an opportunity for a prosperous and secure future. Adopting the ideas set forth in CFV’s "Putting Children First" really helps direct more of our resources toward realizing that hope.
Peter Wellman is a resident of Bennington.