skip to content
Member Login
Support Independent Media

Vermont Guardian

For The Independent Mind

Breaking News Alerts

Classroom lessons

Posted May 3, 2007

Imagine if taxpayers were the teachers, and legislators the children. What do you think we’d be having them write on the blackboard 100 times at the end of the session?

As lawmakers set their sights on adjournment next week, House and Senate conferees begin the long hard slog toward compromise on tinkering with educating funding.

There will be no breathless announcement of “sweeping” or “historic” changes to how we fund education.

We’ve been there, done that, for good or bad depending on where you live.

The problem is that too many people — taxpayers, politicians, teachers, education bureaucrats — are relishing the fact that there is likely nothing to happen this session. Why?

Because none of the proposals so far being offered by lawmakers, or the Douglas administration, are meaningful reforms that are aimed at empowering parents, taxpayers, and students. Rather, they are simply meant to half-deliver some existential notion that they’ve “done something” to curb cost increases.

Taxpayers, and school boards, are already doing this. The increases in school budgets has slowed in large part due to declining enrollment.
At the beginning of the session, Senate Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, had it right. There were no easy solutions, and everyone was going to have to give up something.

Like health care reform last session, however, those words are easier said than a deed done.

The interested parties — school board members (who are not bureaucrats but citizens like the rest of us), teachers, lawmakers, and others — wanted the other person to take it on the chin.

In health care reform, it will take patients, doctors, hospital administrators, regulators, and insurance companies each willing to give up some control in order to make the system work better.

The same goes for education.

While the session might produce some bumper sticker response to education costs, let’s hope that before the next session more is done to get to the root causes of increased costs.

We need to know how much unfunded mandates, health care, energy costs, and our number of school districts are costing us.

Putting a cap on budgets, while a start, will only create angst in most communities and place an even greater burden on volunteer boards to find more savings, when many costs are out of their control.

It’s easy to say, cut special education or spend it more “efficiently.” But, if you’re the parent of a child with special needs, you know that means less, or inferior, services for your child to make that happen as the money is spread around.

There needs to be more creative thinking in Montpelier, and beyond, to rethink how we staff, deliver, and pay for education.

For example, an early retirement buyout may be a worthwhile idea to help reduce the number of teachers, given that 53 percent of all education costs are for teacher salaries, and long-term teachers earn the most.

If we want more young people to stay in Vermont, we need to be able to deliver to them the education that they need, and employers want. More importantly, we need to show that we value them in our community, and maintaining a strong school system is just one way we can do more than tell them we care.

Mission … accomplished?

Plenty of political hay is being made about the anniversary of Pres. George W. Bush’s infamous aircraft carrier speech telling us all major combat operations in Iraq were over.

For the thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed and wounded since then, it comes as no comfort. Now, we learn that the Bush administration does not count those Iraqis killed in car bombings as part of its official tally to determine if its recent troop “surge” is working. Why? Because if you add those numbers in, it’s easy to see that there has been an escalation in violence where the U.S. has intensified its focus.

Iraq remains a dangerous place, and increasingly the United States is finding itself between warring factions hoping to have a leg up in a post-occupation Iraq.

Now into year five of one of the most reckless foreign policy blunders in history, we can only wonder if the landscape of today’s Iraq is what Pres. Bush had in mind when he said that forces had “prevailed.”