We must keep our well-regarded educational system strong in the face of declining enrollment and stretched budgets. Schools are often the heartbeat of the community, providing space for meetings and gatherings, for after-school programs and before-school breakfasts. The students and families served by our schools throughout the days and evenings rely on schools to provide a safe haven. We must work with our federal government to rebuild our schools, to continue providing quality education, literate students and good citizens to our society.
Schooling is, of course, expensive, and it matters if we look at it as an expense or an investment. Vermont has made conscious decisions over the past two generations to improve our public education, and we have now a system that is the envy of much of the nation. Is it perfect? Goodness, no. But considering our resources, our inventiveness and our reliance on Vermont values, we have a system that is excellent by nearly every measure.
So when people ask if we are educating our children to the best of our ability, we can say, “we always have room to improve.” Act 46 was a large sea-change for school boards and districts. I supported this bill because as good as we are, we need to continuously improve, and the best way to create accountability is to create transparency. With a more unified vision, our local school boards can focus on maintaining what they do best: making sure their school district is educating their children better than it did last year, and the year before that. And when that happens, we all win. The transition has been rocky, to be sure, and school districts are learning that their engagement with their regional partners must overcome the historical biases we have experienced under our older system. The education portion of our local taxes — 80% — is a substantial responsibility, and finding board members who can volunteer enough time to make it work will be a burden on communities in the near future, but hopefully will provide a system that can do more than bridge the gap between the needs that we have and will arise without our input and the financial ability to make it all work for the benefit of our students.
There is no question the road ahead will be full of potholes, and I will be here for those constituents who need help in finding the answers. When it comes to education law and practice, I may not have the answer myself, but I will work to find the person who does.