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BENNINGTON — State Sen. Brian Campion has been named chairperson of the Vermont State Senate’s Education Committee for the 2021-22 biennium.

Campion, entering his fourth term in the state Senate and sixth overall, was named to the post Friday by state Senate President pro tem Becca Balint, D-Windham. The previous committee chair, state Sen. Philip Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, stepped down from the position.

Campion served last year on the Senate’s Finance and Natural Resources and Energy committees. He will remain on the Natural Resources and Energy panel.

During his two terms in the state House of Representatives, Campion served on the House Education Committee. When he learned Baruth was stepping down, he sought out Balint, Lt. Governor Molly Gray (the ex-officio Senate president) and Committee on Committees Senate member Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden-Grand Isle, and asked to be considered.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity,” Campion said Friday. “Education is incredibly important to me. I think it’s the most important committee, in that it touches on the work of all other committees.”

Balint said the Committee on Committees felt Campion is “ready to take the helm.”

“He is a strong believer in public education,” Balint said of Campion. “He has a background in higher education. Also, he has a strong interest in early education, and he said to me that he wants to do everything we can to make sure Vermont has the best early education system in the country.”

“He’s so proud and so excited to serve his community in this way and his state in this way,” Balint added.

Campion is the director of public policy at the Elizabeth Coleman Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College.

Campion’s colleague in Bennington County, state Sen. Dick Sears, is confident that Campion will do well in the new role.

“I’m pleased that the Committee on Committees has recognized his leadership ability,” Sears said. “I think his life experiences and interests in education will be an asset to the committee.”

In laying out his priorities, Campion said the evidence on the importance of early education is clear.

“Investing early in our children is in our state’s short and long-term interests,” he said. From economic development to educational outcomes, each dollar invested is returned in multiples.”

Campion said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear how important strong schools are to communities. And Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol shows “educational institutions are really fundamental to furthering and strengthening our democracy.”

When it comes to assessing education in Vermont, Campion wants to “first and foremost look at the needs out there … where are the struggles schools might be having, and how can we help schools and children navigate the process?”

He’s also teachers’ experiences in the classroom, and how the state might be able to help them.

“What is the experience of the Vermont teacher?” Campion wants to know. “We know our best teachers love what they do. I want to make sure they have the tools and the time to perform their jobs. And enriching the teaching experience will be a priority of mine as well.”

Campion, who pushed for a state law mandating testing for lead in school drinking water, also plans to focus on health and safety in schools. “Lead, PCBs, radon, and PFOAs are just some of the toxins that cannot continue to pollute the air and water of our students, teachers, and staff,” he said.

Campion is one of four lawmakers from southern Vermont who will be chairing a committee this term. Sears returns for another two years as chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, is returning chairperson of the Senate Government Operations Committee; and state Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, will again chair the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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