We rank among the ten best education systems in America. That's good, but we are in a country that now ranks outside of the top 20 internationally. That means Vermont ranks about 30th in the world.
Our high school graduates have a lower college graduation rate than we expect; and evidence mounts that in Vermont, like in the rest of America, children of the poor often remain trapped in poverty, despite the education provided them.
How important is it to have the world's greatest education system? Imagine what that means. Every child is ready for a job or college. An educated, fully employed workforce has replaced poverty, and safe communities and the powerful aspirations of our young have supplanted drug use and crime. The magnetic pull of the world's greatest education system proves irresistible to young families wanting the best for their children. And Vermont builds an economy where no one is left behind and everyone prospers.
Is it worth considering new approaches to achieve this grand goal? What would we do for our children? Anything!
Vermont currently has more than 300 local and regional administrative entities, plus the State Department of Education, serving slightly over 85,000 students. This costly bureaucratic system diverts resources from the classroom.
How about 15 education districts instead of 64 supervisory unions that find better ways to share resources? How about developing an acceptable and fair evaluation methodology for our teachers? While we're at it, shouldn't we pay our teachers more because, in fact, they are the most essential ingredients to a great education? How about property tax systems that better connect Vermonters with school funding and re-establishing local control? And, how about giving every family the option of offering their children early educational services?
Change is in the air. On the same day Campaign for Vermont released its position paper on education, Randi Weingarten, President of a large national teachers union suggested that we consider bar exams for newly minted teachers just as we do for lawyers. The U.S. Secretary of Education has developed an aggressive set of initiatives that just a few years ago might have been broadly rejected. We know our country's education system has slipped. Vermont has an opportunity to build among the best education systems in the world.
What are we waiting for?
Campaign for Vermont believes that we can achieve an economy of scale that improves efficiency and saves taxpayers money. It will also create a greater range of offerings for our children. And, with the state continuing to cover its current financial responsibilities, and preservation of a functional excess school spending mechanism, these reforms will be entirely consistent with our obligation to ensure every child has access to a "substantially equal" educational opportunity under the law.
Vermont should have - and is currently paying enough to have - an education system that leads the world in results, empowers children with the tools they need to succeed, attracts more young families and great jobs of all types. With the right reforms, our education system can be the cornerstone of an economy where everyone is secure and no one lives in poverty. We believe it must be. If you share this view, please join the conversation.
You can read our entire proposal and offer your input at www.campaignforvermont.org.
Bruce Lisman is a resident of Shelburne and is the founder of Campaign for Vermont.