NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Vermont has an urgent need to increase the value of student education while reducing costs that continue to grow faster than residents can afford to pay, Republican Gov. Phil Scott told more than 350 school administrators, teachers, school board members and legislators attending his education summit on Monday.
At the start of the daylong summit, Scott said Vermont faces the challenges of being the second-oldest state and one of the fastest-aging states in the country, with an average loss of 1,000 students every year while education costs per student keep climbing.
“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,” Scott said in opening remarks to the summit, which included panel discussions and participants gathered in small groups to drum up ideas.
Among the suggested priorities for containing costs and enhancing student opportunities were to improve the teacher certification process with focused professional development based on district needs; to consolidate purchasing of supplies; and to get more people and businesses to move to Vermont.
Colleen MacKinnon, a school board member of the Champlain Valley School District, which is in its first year of consolidation, said she appreciated the opportunity to interact with people from different aspects of education from administrators to school board members and teachers. She said what Scott is presenting makes sense.
“We understand, those of us who are closer to each other in Chittenden County and the Champlain Valley, it’s easy to move kids around,” she said. “We understand that in some parts of the state, with the geography and so forth, it’s more difficult.”
Scott said the root of the education problem is that the infrastructure was built and operated to educate more than 100,000 students when Vermont has about 76,000 students now.
“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,” he said.
The problem is a long-term threat to Vermont’s economy and to education, he added.
Jeffrey Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said it’s a good sign that Scott wants to work together, but that it’s difficult to see strategies from the summit that would be implemented in the upcoming legislative session.
This story has been corrected to show the summit was in Northfield, not in Norwich.