April 1, 2015

"As many of the members well know, since I arrived in the House in 2007, I have worked diligently to advance real, meaningful, comprehensive education reform – both in terms of quality and fo funding.  I have fought for a transformation of our system into the 21st Century education system that our students – and all Vermonters – deserve.

Unfortunately, those repeated efforts have been unsuccessful, as too many here did not believe the system was completely unsustainable; did not believe the system was broken; did not believe it needed real reform.

I never understood the dismissal of the Governor, and so many others here in Montpelier, of the underlying structural problems in our system.  After all, we watched – standing on the sidelines – as educational spending and property taxes on Vermonters both skyrocketed, and our students’ educational outcomes had no discernible improvement.

Meanwhile, from those same sidelines, we placed the blame at the foot of our school boards and local voters.  But, in reality, those local boards and voters have simply been trying to provide students with the education they deserve and support their schools within the framework we have given them.

Then, to my delight, over the 2014 campaign season, I heard over and over again those prior advocates for the status quo promise Vermonters that they were committed to meaningful reform; that, indeed, this was the year the Vermont General Assembly was going to tackle education reform. 

So, my question now, is simple.  Is this it?  Is this what Vermonters were expecting of us?

The elimination of local school districts and school boards?  The elimination of the local community voice in the development and provision of educational services to the students they know best? 

And while eliminating so much of the local voice, we maintain the vast and overreaching administrative structure that is so firmly in place?

And, finally, we include no meaningful reform to the funding system?

I’m sorry Mr. Speaker, but this is not what my constituents have been clamoring for.  And, I would argue that this is not what Vermonters as a whole have been clamoring for.

When I arrived in January this year, I was hopeful.  With all of the promises, I was hopeful that we would look at this as the opportunity that it truly is - to transform our state's education system into a 21st century education system, where, first and foremost, we put students first.

I hoped we would look at our education system differently; to not look at it as what it is, but rather at what it could – and should – be.  I hoped we would come to together to comprehensively reform the system.

This comprehensive effort, I hoped, would focus on expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes; reconnecting taxpayers to budgets voted upon and money spent; reconnecting taxpayers to the outcomes achieved; and ensuring substantially equal educational opportunity for all students throughout the state – all within a more equitable and fair, less complex funding system.

To be clear, I am not opposed to consolidation. In fact, I have tried to make the case over these past seven years for an Education Transformation to develop a system that has, as one of its cores, a reorganization and consolidation of our administrative system.

It is a way to offer better and more expanded opportunities to our children and achieve better educational outcomes, so that our students are prepared for the 21st century global economy. 

But, it does not have to be the consolidation and elimination of school districts, ladies and gentleman, as this bill is proposing.

As importantly, Mr. Speaker, the legislation we are being asked to support today does not include any meaningful education funding reform.

Make no mistake, the tweaks that are put into place in H. 361 are just that – tweaks.  The underlying structure remains in place, and therefore the significant flaws do as well.

Is this what your constituents wanted when they begged and pleaded for education reform?

Are you inspired by this?  Are you excited about this?  Should Vermonters be?

Are you going to rush home and declare proudly and boldly that this education reform effort is the roadmap to excellence that Vermonters so desire, and our students so deserve?

Are you going to rush home and declare proudly and boldly that this is the roadmap to accountability that taxpayers are so anxious for?

Is this truly what your constituents wanted?  I don’t believe so.

So, what are we doing here, Mr. Speaker?

To that I will just say that, only in politics is doing something for the sake of simply doing something a reason for doing it.

As the legendary coach John Wooden said “Never mistake activity for achievement.”"