Transcript of Remarks by Governor Phil Scott at the Governor’s Education Summit

18 December 2017

On Monday, December 18, Governor Phil Scott addressed attendees at his Education Summit at Norwich University. The event brought more than 300 education stakeholders, legislators and members of the Scott Administration together to discuss improvements to Vermont’s education system, build on the Governor’s vision for a Cradle-to-Career continuum of learning, and how to address funding challenges as we face a continued decline in enrollments. A transcript of Gov. Scott’s remarks follows.

GOVERNOR SCOTT: "Thank you, President Schneider, and thank you to your team at Norwich University and especially Bizhan for accommodating us on such short notice. The change in location was necessary to ensure all who wanted to participate were able to do so.

And a special thanks to all of you for taking the time to be here this morning. I think the incredible turnout reflects our shared commitment to providing children with the best possible educational opportunities we can.

In that vein, about twenty years ago, the Supreme Court of Vermont made a ruling in the landmark Brigham case, which determined equal access to education funding is a constitutional right.

This ruling ultimately resulted in the passing of Act 60, and later Act 68.

In my opinion, the Brigham decision changed the dynamic between the state and local districts, which led to the tension around who ultimately decides how we pay for, and how we educate, our kids.

With a statewide funding formula—and a single state education fund—there is no doubt Montpelier has inserted itself into education decisions more and more over the past several years. I hope you know they were well meaning and honest efforts to expand opportunities and contain costs. There’s no doubt the difficult position this placed on local board, but please know we appreciate your hard work.

With that in mind, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that many of you here today are probably frustrated and exhausted with all the changes over the last 20 years.

Between Act 166 of 2014 requiring universal pre-k, which is only now is in its first full year of implementation; Act 77 of 2013, calling for a better approach to career and postsecondary opportunities for high school students; and Act 46 of 2015, which is encouraging the rightsizing of our system, I understand the fatigue and frustration regarding education reform.

Many of you have been on the frontlines, working to implement these policies and directives, while also carrying out the responsibility of running our schools.

With all the work you have put into these initiatives, I also recognize many of you are concerned and apprehensive about what might be asked of you next. And there might be a temptation to slow down, or pause the work that has begun. But we must not allow that to happen.

We find ourselves in a time of continuous change—socially, economically, and technologically—and it’s placing new demands and stresses on all of you who are in our schools and other public institutions.

As most of you know, family dynamics and household economics are also changing. Research and data tells us this increases the demand for early care and learning. And we know most career opportunities now require some sort of post-secondary credential or degree.

While all this is going on, Vermont finds itself in the unenviable position of being the second oldest—as well as one of the fastest aging—states in the country.  

This impacts our economy, schools and ability to provide public services in major ways.

Now, I know you’ve heard me talk about this before, but these challenges can be summed up by three numbers that literally keep me up at night: six, three, and one.

Every day when we wake up, on average, there are six fewer workers in our workforce, three fewer kids in K-12, and nearly one baby born exposed to addiction—every single day.

That’s over 1000 fewer students every single year, to the point where we’re now educating 30,000 fewer students than we were 25 years ago.

Given these challenges, we have an urgent need to transform our education system into the best in the country with what we spend today, and what we can afford to invest in the future.

We must increase the value students see from the dollars we spend, while providing relief from costs that continue to grow faster than Vermonters can afford to pay.

In my inaugural address almost a year ago, I outlined my vision for a cradle to career education system. Which I feel is critical to growing the economy, making Vermont more affordable and protecting the most vulnerable.

As many of you know, the Commissioner of taxes recently released a statutorily required letter on December 1.

Under the current conditions—and if we do nothing—the Commissioner projects a 9.4 cent increase in property tax rates for the upcoming fiscal year. It bears repeating this is only if we do nothing, which I don’t think is acceptable and I believe most us recognize most Vermonters cannot afford this, which adds to the sense of urgency. But I also know, and I hope you agree, that together we can find solutions.

Susanne Young, my Secretary of Administration, will go into more detail in a moment, but for the purposes of today’s summit, I feel we need to highlight our financial challenges in order to achieve the outcome I know we’re all working towards, which is better opportunities for our kids.

While my Administration will propose a plan to address the shortfall in the education fund in the coming legislative session, it’s important to realize that even though this year’s projected increase in property tax rates is larger than in past years, the trend of per pupil spending outpacing the rate of growth in the economy and wages is not new.

For nearly two decades we have heard the calls from Vermonters for property tax relief. Yet instead every year, taxes have been raised, which raised more revenue and is now over $1.6 billion to educate 30,000 fewer students than we had 25 years ago. 

And we all watch as you struggle to preserve academic services as class sizes get smaller and overhead costs increase faster than our economy grows.

It also bears noting, to put things into context, that, on average, per pupil education costs—which is how we calculate property tax rates—have grown faster than even healthcare costs over the past ten years.

Which is even more astonishing when you consider healthcare utilization is increasing while the number of students in our education system is decreasing. 

So, we ask ourselves, why or how did this happen?

The root of the problem is an education infrastructure built and operated to educate well over 100,000 students, despite having about 76,000 today.

Think of it this way: Every dollar we spend on underutilized space in a public or independent school is a dollar that’s not being spent on a child.

This is a long-term threat to Vermont’s economy — and to the education our children deserve— that we hope much of the discussion will focus on today.  

Because, to be blunt, our ability as a state and locally to make additional investments in education and support better outcomes for students is dependent on more efficient use of existing resources.

And as the 6-3-1 trends clearly demonstrate, we can’t afford to wait, and our collective work is more important than ever before.

My hope is, that at the end of the summit we’ll leave united around this mission.

Because the fact is, whether you’re in a high spending district, a low spending district, a non-operating district, or represent the private or higher education community, we all have to be in this together in order to change the trajectory.

I want to assure you: My administration is committed to working with you to do so. 

We know one size doesn’t fit all, and we want to hear about the unique challenges that exist throughout the state.

Thank you again for being here.  I look forward to hearing everyone’s ideas, and working with each of you as we move forward.”

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Download presentations from today’s conference below:

Secretary of Administration Susanne Young: Overview of FY19 Education Spending Projections, Budget Constraints and Federal Fiscal Context

Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe & Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille: The Administration's Recommendations on Act 166: Prekindergarten Education in Vermont

Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey: The Post-Secondary Challenge

Agency of Education Career Pathways Coordinator Oscar Aliaga: Career Pathways and Career Readiness

View videos of the sessions below:

Session 1: http://www.nsnbeta.net/nsn_player.php?dl=RFZS&id=TlUxMjE4MTc=

Session 2: http://www.nsnbeta.net/nsn_player.php?dl=RFZS&id=Mk5VMTIxODE3

 

Contact Information

Office of Governor Phil Scott
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, VT 05609
Phone: 802 828-3333 (TTY: 800 649-6825)
Fax: 802 828-3339

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