Gov. Phil Scott: Building the best education system in the country

By Gov. Phil Scott

Undoubtedly, many of you are aware of the disagreement between me and the Legislature over increasing statewide property tax rates.

As I’ve said, I cannot accept an increase in statewide property tax rates and here’s why: I ran for office understanding state government needed to focus more of our efforts on making Vermont more affordable and growing the economy.

U.S. Department of State

Republican Gov. Phil Scott

Last year, with the help of the Legislature, we passed a budget without raising a single tax or fee, without cutting services and while investing in economic growth. It was the first time this was achieved in decades, and we did it while addressing revenue shortfalls.

This year, we have a total of $160 million more in revenue than we did last year (much of it from increasing economic activity) which includes at least $44 million in surplus tax revenue. This is excellent news. So, I just don’t understand legislators’ insistence on raising statewide property tax rates when we don’t have to.

From my perspective, raising taxes should always be the last resort. And that’s why I vetoed the budget and tax bills. But education taxes are only one part of an important challenge we must address.

Vermont has great schools, teachers and staff. By most measures, we deliver a good education to our kids. But we could have the very best education in the country, if lawmakers have the courage to face the reality of our current situation and rethink the policies of the past.

Our education system is being weakened by a decline in our working-age population and an increasingly inefficient system that’s diverting budget dollars away from kids. The K-12 system was built to educate more than 100,000 kids. Today, we’re educating about 76,0000 – that’s 27,000 fewer in 20 years, and declines continue. Our student-to-staff ratio has decreased from about seven kids for every one adult to about four to one.

Meanwhile, the state has increased property tax rates (on top of local rate increases) virtually every year – often faster than growth in Vermonters’ paychecks and property values. Even since Act 46 of 2015, which streamlines school governance, costs grew by more than $60 million while the number of students decreased by about 2,000.

These trends have contributed significantly to the affordability crisis many families face, persistent inequality between districts, and expanding inefficiencies that divert millions of dollars away from our kids.

To be very clear, my focus is not on cutting spending – it’s about spending money far better than we do today, so we can do more and make our education system the very best in the country.

Think of it this way: We are now spending more than $1.6 billion to educate 76,000 students. According to the National Education Association, we have, by far, the largest per-student investment in the country, spending twice the national average. We have a good graduation rate, but our student test scores are only two percentage points higher than the national average. We are not making substantial gains in improving outcomes for disadvantaged students. And only about half of our high school graduates go on to receive a technical or trade credential or earn a college degree.

Outcomes and funding from school to school remain alarmingly unequal. We have some schools offering a wide range of foreign languages, environmental studies, cutting-edge science, technology and engineering programs. And we have other schools that can’t offer any of these opportunities.

It’s time to have the courage to admit we can do much more for our kids, achieve better outcomes and attract more families.

That’s why I’ve proposed a plan to stabilize statewide property tax rates for five years, work with districts to make structural reforms and free up hundreds of millions in additional savings to invest in more opportunities for our kids.

Preventing statewide property tax rate increases would also help homeowners and renters get ahead and make it easier for employers to grow and create more good jobs – generating additional organic economic growth and, with budget discipline, more surpluses.

Change can be difficult, and I know how hard it is to reconsider long-held views. But if lawmakers truly care about increasing quality and decreasing inequality in education, they must have the courage to rethink the way we’ve always done things, break the cycle of constant increases in education tax rates and persistent inequality between schools, and reform a good system to make it the very best in America.

Phil Scott is the governor of Vermont.

Images courtesy of U.S. Army National Guard/Michelle Gonzalez/CC BY 2.0 and U.S. Department of State

13 thoughts on “Gov. Phil Scott: Building the best education system in the country

  1. The Vermont education system is a Dem/Prog creation.
    That monopoly behemoth overspends and undereducates.

    It needs completion from a state wide private/parochial school system that receives the same funding as public schools but is totally exempt from any state and local government rules and regulations.

    Such schools would be academic and have gym classes, but no organized team sports.
    If a students wants sports, they can join local community teams or organize them themselves, using their own money.

    • Basically, Willem, you’re describing the one-size-fits-all monopoly compared to the infinite possibilities a School Choice free market makes possible. There are so many ways education can be improved when the market is allowed to function that it is mis-leading to try to describe the possibilities based on yours or my personal perspectives. I can’t begin to imagine the innovations that are likely to arise when educators, parents and students are allowed to follow the beat of their own drummer. But with the monopoly one thing is certain, we’ll never know.

  2. Yeah, let’s see how this plan is going to work, so far the Governor has followed his
    New Friends ( P/D ) in the state house……….And they don’t like this plan !!

    So Vermonter’s let’s see we have $160 million more in revenue than we did last year
    and $44 million in surplus tax revenue, I can’t wait to see how this get’s squandered.

    • So couple the Governor’s policy thoughts with the question How did we get to this point? We all know about the Bernie Revolution. What he wants for the country got its start in this little petri dish called VT. His thoughts and policies over the years have profoundly shaped our political and cultural landscape to what we see hear and breathe today. And what is that when you peel back the onion and expose the consequences? Well, today the Governor has concluded that since we can no longer afford to lose more taxpayers then we need to lure new ones in with cash. Cash is always enticing bait. That will cost the remaining members of the good ship VT just 500k over the next few years. A pittance in practical terms; but the optics speak to a failed system of governing. Bernie’s philosophy has run out of money and it continues to leak taxpayers. So, 10k per new resident isn’t all that much. But what type do we want to attract other than already employed young, smart, enthusiastic types that like to ski, fish, drink VT beer, smoke pot and other cool stuff. We want them to raise their families in the house that Bernie built while striving to achieve the American cultural goals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is crucial because attracting the Bernie types should be no problem. Everyone is aware of VT’s generous safety net in case of economic failure. But if other than that type of Recruit examining the Governor’s program looks below the surface of our regulatory and institutional frameworks, so fundamental to an every day existence, what will they see? Unless I have missed something, they’ll see the same cauldron of problems we’ve been living with, and many have left the state because of, for many years. NO MORE BANDAIDS – THEY SOLVE NOTHING! Please read the below link:

  3. Re: “By most measures, we deliver a good education to our kids.”

    And by what ‘measures’ would those be?

    • Try these ‘measures’ on for size.

      1. According to the teacher’s union (The NEA) Vermont has the most expensive K-12 per pupil costs in the country.

      2. For that investment, only half of Vermont’s 11th graders meet grade level standards and, still, 90% of them graduate.

      3. Fewer than 40% of Vermont high-school graduates go on to college and of those more than 20% drop out in the first two years.

      4. Vermont has one of the highest Special Education rates in the country and the highest percentage of ‘behavioral disabilities’.

      5. And now the State is offering a $10,000 bribe to people if they’ll move to Vermont, work remotely out of state and raise their families here. Imagine that! The State is using our tax dollars to recruit new residents. Meanwhile, those of us who have gutted-out this educational/economic disaster over the years have nothing but the privilege of paying the bribe.

      And this is ‘good’?

      • The state I moved to from VT certainly didn’t need to bribe me to move there.

        -The state I relocated to provides an excellent value for the taxes that are imposed on me. Do I like paying them? No, but I certainly don’t loath paying them like I did in Vermont.

        The state is adding jobs hand over fist, it’s pro growth, it doesn’t look at me and my family like a target because we have what many would consider an excellent income.

        Just north of me they recently built a new school. They made it 3x bigger then it needed to be because of expected student growth demands.

        A new elementary school is slated to be built this fall, again to house new students.

        The state I moved to has a net in migration of ~50k.

        And in case you decided to a a little digging, Vermont’s own GMC just dropped 350 million on a sate of the art plant that will add 500 new jobs. How ironic.

        Is Vermont doing good? From my eyes in a state that’s clearly doing things correctly. Nope!

  4. The problem with education today ( not just in Vermont, but the entire country) is the teaching process. Kids are not learning how to read and write early and well, are not learning American history, but being socially indoctrinated, not reading good literature, and are not learning how to think independently and clearly. It is not about money at all. I went to a one-room schoolhouse in Northfield Center, Vermont, for 3 years after we moved from Hollis, New York, to Vermont. The teacher in that one-room schoolhouse taught all 8 grades every day and likely only had a couple of years of Teacher College training. I’m sure she made a low salary, as most teachers then did. The difference was that she WANTED US TO LEARN AND MADE SURE WE DID. Those 3 years with here influenced all the rest of the education I have had the way through graduate studies at Dartmouth, including attendance at a total of 8 colleges and a degree in English Literature from Boston University. Did it cost the state a lot of money to give me that education? Unlikely. Did I learn a lot? Yup! Why can’t we do the same today for all our children? And BTW just because you don’t have a technical or college degree does not mean you’re stupid. Some of the dumbest people I’ve met have PhD’s but no practical knowledge to live in the real world .

  5. We pour money into these kids, they leave for college and don’t come back. Has anyone noticed or wondered why? Perhaps there are no decent jobs available in the employer unfriendly state.

  6. When can they get it through their heads that poring more money into education does not necessarily mean better results?

  7. ” I ran for office understanding state government needed to focus more of our efforts on making Vermont more affordable and growing the economy.”

    What of no new gun control laws promise,he threw that by the wayside when he Lied, Violated his oath and the Vermont state and federal Constitutions with no compunctions.

    What makes any Vermonter believe a self prover liar,on yet another of his campaign promises.

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