Education

Education Issues

Momentum for school consolidation

In the past week there have been a number of signals around the statehouse that there is growing momentum for a school administrative consolidation effort.  The signals include a working draft of goals that was recently presented to the Education Committee (on which I serve). It includes moving towards approximated 60 governing bodies overseeing K-12 frameworks.  Currently there are approximately 280 governing bodies for a wide range of school administrative systems.

The draft plan allows for towns to decide which neighboring towns they would want to work with, but by if some towns have not "voluntarily" decided by 2019, then the state would finish allocating which towns and districts would need to work together.

This outline will raise flags for some (removing some local control), but will also work to alleviate many duplications in services and hopefully will improve educational options for many children in Vermont.  While the overarching goal is to offer a wider range of class options for many students in Vermont, it will also serve as a tool to work to reduce costs by eliminating many administrative functions/positions.  Not all savings will be realized right away, as there are costs in transition, but as that work is completed, and as our workforce retires, there should be a reduction in the number of administrators.

Throughout the discussion of education funding and the challenges that we are facing with the current funding formula and the reduced rate of property values and the slow growth of other broad based tax revenues, I have been broaching the topic of human services functions that our educators are performing.

As our local schools are asked to do more and more functions that and human serviced related, we have seen an increase in our education spending and therefore more pressure on our property tax funding system.  It is my belief that we should move some of those functions to the area of government that is in charge of that...the agency of human services.  I have been raising the question of whether we can house some of the human services staff (either govt folks or contracted services) right in the schools.  This seems like a particularly good option as we ought to have space in the schools considering we have reduced enrollments (nearly across the state).  By moving these costs to the Agency of Human Services, we can rely on other, more progressive broad based taxes to fund them and move away from the pressure we have been putting onto the education fund.  We also ought to be able to get better results. Rather than each teacher having to learn and address the individual issues that various children have due to family circumstances, there will be councilors and support staff who already have experience with those families in their roles as community councilors.  With greater stability for the children, they ought to be able to learn better.

I am no education nor human services expert, so I am still working to learn more about what is possible, but on the surface, it seems to make sense to me!  Please email me with your thoughts as the more input I have the better.  If you are in these fields in particular and you have examples or experiences, or red flags to raise, please let me know.

Minutes - August 2013 State Committee Meeting

1. Opening Remarks from Party Chair, Martha Abbott
Martha Abbott reviewed the agenda and noted highlights of what the Party has achieved in recent years, including pushing state towards single payer health insurance, getting corporate money out of politics, raising the level of discussion around the creation of a state bank, and divesting from fossil fuels. Progressives also opposed draconian budget measures in last session. She noted she will not be running for party Chair again in November and will move to focusing on fundraising. She expressed a hope that a member from the younger generation will step forward to run for chair. She also thanked Tina Scanlon for organizing the raffle and food.

2. PRESENTATION BY PAUL CILLO, PUBLIC ASSETS INSTITUTE
Paul Cillo is the Director of Public Assets Institute (PAI), a former state representative from the Hardwick area, and an architect of the Act 60 school funding law. PAI started 10 years ago to look at taxes and state budget issues from the perspective of citizens, not legislators, businesses or the administration. A core PAI belief is that people’s money should be used for people’s well being. PAI provides data and policy analysis based on core values.

Economic Indicators
Paul presented on the Vermont economy and the current discussion that it is anemic. Overall economic growth for past 20 years has been about 60 percent; not great but not bad.  However, median household income has only grown about 1.5 percent. Top 1% of population has grown from 6.1% of overall income to 19% of income from 1981 to today.  The wealth gap is our biggest problem and impacts our entire state. We need to rebuild the middle class.

Job growth in the past decade has been negative –- worst since the great depression. Private sector job growth stagnant in the last 10 years. Poverty rates declined from 1980 until 2010, but rate has started to rise again. More Vermonters qualify for food stamps today than before the recession –- 100K vs. 60K. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) cost rapidly rising, which led to some leaders saying we need to cut back on this expensive program. PAI noted the rising use of this program is because economy was bad and people need more assistance. Health insurance premiums and deductibles have grown enormously. Vermont EITC debate in the last legislation included the Governor saying this is an entitlement, not a tax break. PAI says it is a tax break for working people and PAI says let’s pay for child care with a different tax break. Income dropping, stagnant job growth and cost of programs to help working people is increasing. Yet governmental budget cuts hurt low and moderately income people the most. Tax code changes benefit the wealthiest the most. Budget debate skewed towards lowering taxes and shrinking the budget.

State Budget
75% of VT state budget goes to human services and education. Growth in Vermont’s general fund budget despite cuts to federal assistance to budget. However, not until 2011 that the budget was actually cut (vs. slower growth). Overall, 20% less being spent in general fund. Discussion in Montpelier is about money first and people second. Important to note that this is a shift from Snelling administration when people came first. State needs to do a needs assessment –- state does not do this now. Poor have become invisible in VT and become statistics/cost to taxpayers vs. actual people in the news.

Education Fund
With Education Fund, when state cuts there, towns either raise local taxes or cut. Over last couple of years, state spending has been lower for education, but went up this year by 5 percent; overall education spending has been very stable. Complaint with education is that student population is declining, which means per student cost is rising. However, health insurance a major expense for schools and considering that that expense has doubled over last 20 years, school services have actually been cut. Vermont maintains an equitable system for education funding unlike most other states and continues to rank in the top 5 states for test scores and graduation rates. We have great schools. We should think about how to bring more kids into state to fill gap with education funding/student population issues.

Wealth In State
PAI and Blue Ribbon Commission looked at IRS data over 20 years and in and out migration of people is about equal: 15-16K people each year. People moving in have about 18% higher income than people moving out. This impacts property value bids and pushes housing prices up and negatively impacts working people in other ways.

Solution Ideas

• Eliminate tax breaks.
• Create a people’s budget that changes the culture of money first, people second (The Vermont Workers' Center's People’s Budget is releasing film on August 21 to begin education campaign).
• Eliminate school property taxes for primary residences
• Pay it forward college (like in Oregon)
• Boosting energy efficiency investment.

Discussion by State Committee
Discussion held on culture of putting money before people’s needs in budget process and making cuts without hearing from people. Discussion on changes to regressive taxes vs. progressive tax structures. Sen. Anthony Pollina noted that language on equity and fairness included in last year’s budget, but nothing was done with this that meaningfully impacted the budget process this year. Discussion about raising revenue and debate on taxing wealthiest has not had much traction.

Discussion on percentages of taxes –- corporate tax revenues have declined as a percent of overall budget, also Paul only C corporations get taxed in VT, not S corporations. C corporations aren’t a significant group in VT.  Paul noted that we have an overall regressive tax system that relies on sales, income and property taxes, but less regressive than many other states. Income tax in VT is progressive, but only partially helps households who face other regressive taxes in state. We still have preferential treatment for capital gains taxes in Vermont. Discussion about wealth distribution, further ways to create equity, and how to create wealth by creating jobs, not just wealth from investments. Brief discussion of Genuine Progress Indicator.

3. TOWN MEETING RESOLUTION ON HEALTH CARE
Reported that the resolution is being drafted. Noted that March 2014 may not be the best time to put something on about Single Payer that conflicts with Affordable Care Act. Proposal made to seek how much our town is spending on health care and how much would be saved with single payer.  This would likely get a positive vote and then towns would get this information. Contact Martha if interested in working on this.

4. JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN RESOLUTION
Introduction of resolution for adoption by state committee (click here for the final resolution as passed). Amendment offered by Erhard Mahnke (Burlington) to add four new points to include reference to judicial system disparities in the criminal justice system, urging federal charges be brought against Zimmerman, advocating for hiring of people of color in state and local government and schools, and strengthening education about racism in schools. Michael Bayer moves Terry Jerolomon seconds support of the resolution. Passed with zero opposed, two abstentions.

5. FUNDRAISING & ANNOUNCEMENTS
Martha delivered a request for donations for the party. Announcements: 1) Benefit for the Old Labor Hall. Brian Jones will be performing Howard Zinn’s Marx in SoHo.  Aug 31st 7:30pm. 2) Monday, August 12th, Burlington City Council meeting and public hearing about F-35.  People will have opportunity to make 2 min statements. 3) Sad news that Ted Webster and Franklin Reeve have passed away. 4) Farewell to Mike Bayer who is moving out of state. Thank you for your years of leadership in the Party.

6. TOWN & COUNTY 2013 REORGANIZATION
Need help organizing Bennington, Lamoille, Caledonia and Essex Counties.  Contact Robert at the Party to help. Town chairs will be hearing from county chairs about more details on reorganization process. Counties organized by Oct 9th and Towns around Sept 10th.  Must be a 30 day gap between "offical" town/county meeting days.

7. PANEL DISCUSSION ON ELECTION STRATEGIZING FOR 2014
Panel members Chris Pearson and Morgan Daybell spoke. The focus of the panel was on the gubernatorial race for 2014. Panel addressed a number of points including: historical experience of party and ability to gain traction with Democratic leadership, attraction of new party members to our party when Democrats veer from their commitments, Shumlin’s proposed state budget and impact on low income Vermonters, and focus of the party always being economic, environmental and social justice and pushing those key issues in every election. Noted success in legislative races and being the most successful third party in the country. We need a transparent discussion on the pros/cons of legislative races vs. statewide race over the coming months. Also discussion on resources of party to run statewide race and that limited resources may be best used for House/Senate races. Also some projection on future of Republican Party in future and if political winds shift, Progs may really grow in the void. Debate re: whether a statewide candidate helps to recruit local candidates.

Discussion by state committee on increasing party outreach so voters are educated on third party option. Struggle to get party recognition even when we had a gubernatorial candidate come in second place four years ago. House races build up party recognition because of direct voter contact. Further discussion on other positive elements from focusing on local house races such as building up numbers, attracting progressive Dems to the Party, building on local issues such as child care and home health care worker union organizing initiatives. Some argued statewide campaigns build publicity that reaches all voters and can’t endorse Shumlin because of his move to the right on Yankee and other issues. And some argued if Shumlin isn’t challenged he will move further to the right. People now know difference Progs represent on social and economic issues vs. Democrats and we can organize outraged low-income people who have been negatively impacted by Shumlin. Conversation is ongoing and will continue among party members.

8. ORGANIZED LABOR UPDATE
We heard from Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Mark Mitchell and staffers Steve Howard and Adam Norton. Gave update on internal and external work in union. Undergoing elections of new officers and reengaging members via organizing model. They thanked Progressives for fighting for state workers in legislature and Cindy Weed’s leadership on fair share legislation. Still fighting to empower members to speak out even if opinions contrary to administration’s position, especially on corrections issues and privatization issues such as with the Reach Up case managers. Also 20% of Vermont state government are temporary workers with no benefits. State College employees just reached impasse in bargaining – 250 blue and pink collar low wage workers. Veterans’ hospital workers spoke out and recent report validated their concerns about staffing issues. VSEA strengthening their PAC and want pro-labor candidates in every race.

We also heard from Kelly Mangan, United Electrical Workers’ Vermont Fair Food Campaign. She worked with Bernie’s last campaign. The campaign is a grassroots movement of food workers.  57,000 people work in the VT food system. It is a huge and growing industry.  Vermonters talk about organic, sustainable and local food, but not the people working in the industry. Wages are low, jobs are often temporary and mean workers qualify for state assistance programs. Many workers don’t have benefits or days off. Also a lot of fear among food workers – fear of being fired, retaliation, afraid to speak up about safety, afraid to have union meeting. Campaign is working with the Workers’ Center, Voices for Vermont’s Children and Paid Sick Leave campaign. Currently they are working to survey workers and publish best and worst businesses for employees in VT. Send names of food industry workers to the campaign so they can get surveyed and donate to cause!

Minutes taken by Leslie Mathews. Submitted by Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Secretary, 8/13/2013.

Legislators affirmed state’s social liberalism

May 16, 2013; Peter Hirschfeld; Rutland Herald

But so far at least, the Vermont Democrats running the show in Montpelier seem content to save their liberalism for the social arena. And progressive lawmakers are beginning to wonder whether one-party rule will ever translate into new public investments to bolster human services, combat climate change, or expand access to health care.

“The primary focus for progressives, whether you’re a large ‘P’ or a small ‘p,’ is economic issues,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat from Chittenden County. “And in that arena, the bodies were relatively conservative.”

Read the whole article >>

Blowing Up the Bridge Out of Poverty

The most distressing aspect of the Administration’s proposal to limit Reach Up benefits is that it will defeat, rather than advance, our goal of moving people out of poverty.  Passed as part of the national welfare reform efforts in the 1990s (remember President Clinton’s vow to “end welfare as we know it”?), Vermont’s Reach Up program is designed to get people into the workforce and permanently out of poverty.  One of the most important programs in our overall welfare-to-work design is the Post-Secondary Education Program.

Because (incredibly!) Federal law does not allow “work participation” credit for college, Vermont set up a separate state-funded program to allow Reach Up recipients (mostly very young women) to attend college, raise their small children and receive Reach Up support while doing so.  The success rate for this cohort has been impressive.  Not only do young mothers then stay out of poverty, they actually earn a livable wage (which is more than twice the minimum wage).

For reasons as yet unclear, the Department for Children & Families (DCF) is apparently reluctant to advise new welfare recipients that this option even exists.  House Human Services heard testimony last week from a mother who already has an AA degree and is taking classes to become a nurse.  Unfortunately, none of the time she spends taking class, preparing for class, or traveling to class (tedious because our public transportation is so inadequate) counts toward the work requirement for her Reach Up grant.  As a result, her family is now at risk of being “sanctioned,” that is, having their monthly food and shelter grant reduced.  Just to put this in perspective, the “full” grant is just 49% of what a family actually needs to get by in Vermont.  So this mother may have to give up school to accept a fast food job.

The Governor’s plan to throw families off Reach Up in October if they have received 36 months of cumulative benefits would further undermine peoples’ ability to move out of poverty.  Either the parents will take low-wage jobs (if any jobs are open) or they and their children will slide further into poverty, possibly homelessness.

Statehouse Sitdown: Tim Ashe

WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Shumlin's Budget Attacks Low-Income Vermonters

Last Thursday, the Governor presented his budget to the joint assembly.  This is an annual ritual that is like a watered-down version of the “State of the Union” address the President will give next month.  It comes complete with awkward pauses for applause and dutiful shout-outs to honored guests.

When it was all over many of us were left wondering what exactly Shumlin's goal is.

On one hand, he wants to increase funding to make Pre-K universal across Vermont.  This is an essential economic development and quality of life tool that will help families with young children.  Shumlin rightly points out that investing at the early end of the education spectrum pays off in the long run in the form of better brain development and more.  Progressives have advocated for more quality pre-school opportunities since Anthony Pollina raised the issue in his 2000 campaign for Governor.

On the other hand, Shumlin wants to cut the state's most successful anti-poverty program to fund this Pre-K expansion.  As Sen. Tim Ashe said in the Burlington Free Press, "It's like robbing Peter to pay Peter less."  Shumlin proposes to take money currently going to the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit.  This program puts cash into the hands of the poorest 44,000 Vermont families.  This is how single moms pay for their rent or groceries.

Compare this funding idea against our proposal last year to increase the income tax for the wealthiest 4,000 Vermonters and you get a clear idea of Shumlin's values.  Our proposal was nixed as a "broad-based tax."  His proposal, which hits 10 times the number of Vermonters, isn't because he's constricting benefits rather than technically raising taxes.  Lovely.

Fortunately we have heard that Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais), who chairs the House Ways & Means Committee, isn't taking the proposal seriously.  Speaker Shap Smith told Seven Days he has strong concerns about it.  In the Senate, the relevant committee is now chaired by Sen. Ashe.

Shumlin also proposed cuts to the state's "Reach Up" program.  That's welfare for those of you unfamiliar with the jargon.  Apparently, Vermont is too generous with these benefits too.

The governor wants to increase funding for UVM and the State Colleges.  And he wants more money to go to weatherization and renewable energy.  More Progressive priorities.  Most of this gets funded by taxing "break-open" tickets sold in bars, VFWs, etc.  Basically this expands our dependence on the lottery.
Taken together, Shumlin has found about $40 million to fund exciting priorities.  But this money is coming from those who can least afford it, at a time when according to the Public Assets Institute, "real median household income, though slightly higher than last year, was less than in 2007."

Progressives now face the challenge of supporting these important priorities while redirecting attention to alternative sources of revenue.  We will need your help.

Health care report confirms savings potential in single-payer

Details about what our tax bills will look like once Green Mountain Care (our single-payer system) is up and running remain to be seen, but once again experts agree single-payer will: cover everyone, increase the quality of coverage for over 100,000 Vermonters who are currently under-insured, and save money overall.

The entire report can be found here.

From the summary: "Overall, GMC is estimated to save $281 million over the first three years, even with these enhancements to coverage, elimination of the uninsured, and a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for Vermonters.  GMC is estimated to cost approximately $3.5 billion, but only $1.61 billion would need to be financed due to federal contributions for the remaining amount.  In 2013, individuals and employers will contribute approximately $3 billion between private insurance costs and out-of-pocket costs, so overall the costs to Vermonters are reduced under Green Mountain Care."

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