By Hilary Niles, VTDigger.org
Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe has received her marching orders for the 2015 legislative session. In a letter dated Aug. 19, Gov. Peter Shumlin laid out his priorities for the state’s public education system and requests specific initiatives from the Agency of Education.
Among the directives: promote the benefits of “right-sizing” especially small districts, enforce a moratorium on any legislation that requires additional spending by local school districts and find new ways to develop better outcomes for students in school and after graduation.
The letter reflects a series of conversations between Shumlin and Holcombe about how to manage Vermont’s public education system, Holcombe said.
First and foremost, the letter reads, the agency needs to solve the state’s education funding paradox: “[W]e have a statewide education tax to create equity, but decisions about what to spend are made locally. That means each local decision has statewide impact.”
And despite the money going into the system, educational outcomes don’t appear to be improving, the letter notes.
Five years of high-stakes testing has not shown meaningful improvement, despite high scores by affluent kids offsetting low scores, thereby keeping Vermont ranked high among national comparisons. Achievement gaps persist for students in poverty, particularly boys, and too few high school graduates pursue post-secondary education, Shumlin said.
He directed Holcombe to immediately commence work with the Vermont School Boards Association and local school districts to promote district partnerships or consolidations as a correction for unsustainable cost equations.
Holcombe said the outcomes likely will vary from district to district. Some may choose to merge governance structures, she said, while others would consider consolidating schools.