On the campaign trail, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the Republican candidate, has recently run into problems trying to explain how he would cut $110 million in state spending by putting a cap of 2 percent on spending across the board — while not putting the state corrections budget, early education, Dr. Dinosaur, the state highway patrol and other ‘too-important-to-fail’ programs in jeopardy.
When pressed by his Democrat opponent, Sen. Peter Shumlin, to explain the impact of such a proposal Dubie has a ready response: he’d exempt that program and get the savings from the other parts of the budget. One specific example was when Dubie learned that a 2 percent cap on spending would reduce the state corrections budget by almost $35 million, not far from the $42 million Shumlin had proposed — a proposal that drew a slew of negative, fear-mongering campaign ads suggesting that sex-offenders and rapists would be let loose on the streets if Shumlin were to reduce spending by such a draconian amount. When confronted with the affects of the 2 percent cap on corrections, Dubie effectively punted, suggesting that even though the corrections budget is one of the state’s largest, he could hold it harmless while getting his savings from other programs — except those that were too vital to diminish.
But if Dubie is balancing the state budget based on plans to cap spending at 2 percent and, let’s say 25 percent of state spending is exempted, that puts even greater pressure on the remaining programs.
Voters should contemplate how that would specifically affect education spending. Even if the cap remains at 2 percent (which mathematically could not work and still realize the savings he originally projected), it would significantly undermine efforts to restructure our schools.
First and foremost, the 2 percent cap would be a mandate from the state that restricts school spending — no two ways about it. While Dubie tried to call it a “conversation” recently, he finally admitted it would have to be enforced (or mandated) by the state to work. And that’s a direct challenge to local control over a school district’s ability to set its own budget. It would be, as Shumlin says, a significant change in the way Vermonters operate their schools and begins to put the state in control of education spending.
The contradiction, of course, is that Dubie also tries to maintain that he is “the local control candidate” and is against having state government have a heavier hand in deciding local issues. On this issue, nothing could be further from the truth.
Nor is it an acceptable answer to the challenges facing the state’s educational system.
Significant change within our present school system is needed to meet 21st century needs. We have too many students who don’t graduate from high school, too many who don’t go on to college and too few who graduate with post-secondary degrees or have the sufficient training to be productive workers in the industries of tomorrow. We need more coordination between the business community and our schools, and we need more leadership from and coordination with UVM and the state college system.
If Dubie is elected and starts that conversation by telling school boards across the state that the first thing they have to do is deal with a state mandate to cap spending at 2 percent, or lower — when inflation for specific items like health insurance, fuel, and labor contracts are all much higher — reform will be tossed aside and a battle will pit one side (teachers, unions, principals, students and their parents) against the other (the administration).
That’s not a plan that brings hope to Vermont youth, nor is it a plan that will train Vermont workers to fill the knowledge-based jobs of tomorrow. Rather, it is a plan that continues the destructive political rhetoric of the Douglas administration against school spending for the next several years.
Dubie needs to understand that if he hopes to attract new jobs to the state, he can’t continue to wreck the educational foundation that is so fundamental to that goal and to Vermont’s future. On this particular score, he fails to make the grade and his policies will keep the state’s economy in the same pattern of decline that we’ve seen for the past eight years.
Angelo S. Lynn