Shumlin warns of federal cuts’ impact on education
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | April 07,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen introduces Gov. Peter Shumlin to the organization’s annual meeting Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Rutland.
Gov. Peter Shumlin had some good news and bad news Saturday for educators from around the state who attended the annual Vermont-National Education Association meeting in Rutland.
Shumlin talked about spending more money on secondary education to encourage low-income students to continue their educations. He also warned that some Vermont students in need of the highest level of care would soon begin feeling escalating effects from federal sequester cuts.
“It’s going to hit special-needs kids who rely on federal funds,” said Shumlin, who also warned that the cuts from the sequester would cut deeper over time. “The fact that this has gone as far as it has is a reflection of how dysfunctional our government has become.”
But the point the governor made the most is one he has consistently stressed during his appearances at each of the three previous NEA annual meetings.
“Thank you for everything that you’re doing. You know there is no more important component than education to the mission to create jobs and economic opportunities in this state,” Shumlin said at the start of his speech to more than 100 teachers, principals and other educators at the Holiday Inn.
During his half-hour address, Shumlin talked mostly about the challenges before the state’s economy and its educational system, starting with the need to reverse what he described as poor attitudes toward the educational system from prior administrations.
“Before I became governor, I felt like we went through eight years of pitting the community and local voters against kids, teachers ... really the entire educational system,” he said, referring to past criticisms of the state’s education financing law.
“We need to change the dialogue,” he added. “We are successful because of the quality of our schools, not despite it.”
Some areas that Shumlin said the state needs to improve on is the rate of low income students who graduate and pursue a college education.
“The challenge is to move more low-income kids beyond high school and if we’re not doing that, we’re failing, so let’s do it,” he said.
To help meet those goals, Shumlin said his budget provides more money for state colleges and the University of Vermont — money the governor said he would like to see those schools use to keep tuition rates level.
Shumlin said he also wants to encourage dual enrollment that would allow students to earn college credits while still in high school.
“More kids getting more of a college education while in high school just makes sense,” he said.
Increasing math and science scores at the high school level also ranked as a priority with the governor, who said educators need to find more creative ways to encourage math skills — especially algebra and geometry — earlier than later.
One of the earliest levels of education — early childhood education and development — is the beneficiary of what Shumlin said was the biggest investment in his budget.
Shumlin, who struggled himself with a learning disability at an early age, said introducing children to learning at an early age is a concept that resonates with his head and his heart.
“If I had had an early start, there would have been less of a chance at the end of second grade that people would have thrown up their hands and said ‘We can’t teach this kid,’” Shumlin said of his own grade-school experience.