On May 1, 2024

After Vermont Senate rejects Zoie Saunders, Gov.Scott names her interim education secretary

By Glenn Russell/VTDigger — Zoie Saunders speaks at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Education Committee at the Statehouse.

By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

After a lengthy and dramatic debate Tuesday morning, April 30, the Vermont Senate voted against the confirmation of Zoie Saunders as state education secretary — but the fight over her appointment appeared far from finished. 

Saunders needed a majority of the 29-member Senate to approve her appointment, but 19 senators opposed it. Nine voted in favor of her confirmation. One senator was absent.

Tuesday’s vote was the first time in recent memory that the body rejected a nominee for a cabinet-level position. 

The result was a striking blow to Gov. Phil Scott, whose administration lobbied heavily for Saunders’ confirmation. But immediately after the vote, he made clear that he was not ready to back down.

In a press release issued shortly after the Senate denied her confirmation, Scott said he had appointed Saunders interim secretary of education. 

“I’m confident she is the leader we need as we move forward,” he said in a written statement. “In her short time at the Agency, she has identified challenges, which she is already addressing, including mobilizing support to help stabilize operations in the field in collaboration with education leaders.”

Scott did not indicate whether he would formally nominate Saunders again, which would presumably prompt another Senate vote, or whether he intended for her to serve in an interim capacity in perpetuity. 

Scott’s press release suggest that he expects Saunders to remain in the role for at least the foreseeable future. It included a detailed “100-day plan” for her tenure.

Since Scott appointed Saunders to the position in March, she faced scrutiny over her background as an executive at Charter Schools USA, a for-profit corporation based in Florida. A variety of groups — including the state teachers’ union and the Progressive and Democratic parties — came out against her confirmation. Last week, the Senate Education Committee recommended her confirmation in a 3-2 vote.

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