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‘Is Vermont Prepared to Meet This Challenge?’

Gov. Peter Shumlin is applauded as he arrives for his  inauguration to a second term on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Gov. Peter Shumlin is applauded as he arrives for his inauguration to a second term on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Following are excerpts of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s second inaugural address, delivered Thursday.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your governor for another term. It is an honor to serve, and every day I am grateful for this extraordinary privilege. ...

Today I will diverge from tradition and focus this speech on one theme: an education system that grows Vermont’s prosperity. My goal — and the single objective of my administration — remains to grow jobs and incomes for working Vermonters. Our education system, from pre-kindergarten to higher education, is the state’s greatest economic development tool. Our kids routinely test above the national average, and excel in a wide range of disciplines. We have a great system that we must make even greater. ...

... The true challenge that I hear day in and day out, as I log mile after mile as your governor traveling Vermont, is this: at the same time that so many Vermonters need to make more money to make life work and at the same time that so many families seek to bring their kids and loved ones back to Vermont, our employers, from border to border, are eager to find workers with the right educational skills, and they have good money to pay. ...

... I remain unfailingly optimistic about Vermont’s economic future. But to ensure our success, we must embrace change in the way we both view and deliver education. ...

Let’s face facts for a minute: these opportunities for prosperity, from our southern border to Canada, result from the way technology has transformed Vermont’s economy and our lives.

Think about how technology has changed our daily lives: paying our bills, shopping, communicating online, texting and tweeting our way through the day, managing our finances, keeping tabs on our kids.

Technology allows computers to create products that a decade ago, even five years ago, didn’t exist. It has created a connection to a larger world that allows many more people to do business from Vermont that would not have been possible in the pre-tech world.

That same technology has dramatically changed the tools available for teaching and learning. It has changed the nature of work. The high school degree that brought success and a lifetime job in the old economy, ensures a low-wage future in the tech economy. Success in the new economy depends on an educated work force with skills beyond high school in science, computer technology, engineering and math.

I ask you: is Vermont prepared to meet this challenge? Are we ready to harness this opportunity so critical to our future prosperity?

The plain truth is, we are not.

Look at the facts: current estimates show that 62 percent of job openings in the next decade will require post-secondary education. Sixty-two percent. Yet only about 45 percent of Vermont students who begin ninth grade continue their education past high school, and that percentage drops as family incomes decline.

Now don’t let these facts diminish our accomplishments. Together, we have done innovative and cutting edge bipartisan work with school funding in the past decade-and-a-half that you deserve to be proud of. Vermont took a regressive property tax that funds our most important obligation in a democratic society and made it equitable and progressive, giving every child in Vermont an equal shot at resources while preserving local control.

Now, some like it and some don’t, and we could debate it until the cows come home, and I’m sure you will. But in doing so, we ignore the next opportunities that will define our future prosperity. Keep in mind that we spend more money per pupil than all other states in the country except for two. We spend more than 50 percent above the national average, and K-12 spending in Vermont has grown faster over the last decade than in any other state in America.

But the following simple fact ought to alarm all of us: with the vast amount of money that we spend per pupil in Vermont, we have failed to move more low-income Vermont kids beyond high school.

Now is the time to take a good education system in Vermont and make it the best. To get us there, let’s take action on the following four areas.

First, it is long past time for us to put our money where our mouths have been, and strengthen our commitment to universal early childhood education.

... The evidence is overwhelming: the earlier we invest in our children, the healthier, more productive lives they will have. Taxpayers win too, since every dollar we invest in early childhood education saves seven dollars in the future.

Today, I propose to make the largest single investment in early childhood education in Vermont’s history. We will redirect $17 million from the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to make high quality child care affordable to hardworking lower-income Vermonters. There is no bigger obstacle to Vermont parents who want to work or advance than the high cost of quality child care. This bold action will nearly double the state’s contribution to child care for low-income families.

My administration will also ensure financial support to communities that initiate publicly funded preschool programs where they do not now exist. ...

Second, students can’t learn when they are hungry. Yet, too often, we ask hungry kids to learn. While some low-income Vermont kids are eligible for free school lunch under federal guidelines, others have family incomes just high enough that they are forced to pony up cash they don’t have to eat lunch.

We must fix this problem for the thousands of low-income Vermont students who can’t afford to pay for lunch. I propose that the state covers the shortfall left by the federal government, and makes free lunch available for all low-income students, including those who are currently only eligible for reduced prices.

Third, we must make education more accessible and affordable for all Vermonters. To help move more poor kids beyond high school, I ask you to pass two provisions that you have heard me speak about before.

The first is dual enrollment. Over the past five years, state funding has provided limited access to Vermont high school students to get a head start on gaining expensive college credit by enrolling in for-credit college courses while they are in high school. In my budget, I will propose doubling the funding to expand access to this important program. ...

Let’s also authorize an early college initiative aimed at expanding the number of students who simultaneously complete their senior year of high school with their first year of college. ...

Next, we know that the level of college debt being amassed by Vermont’s students and their families is oppressive. This crisis requires us to address affordability with new vigor, particularly for those students who pursue degrees in the disciplines of the new economy.

We also know that one of the challenges we face is keeping young Vermonters in Vermont. ... I propose the Vermont Strong Scholars Program. It’s a simple program, and here’s how it works: if you enroll in any public institution of higher education in the state of Vermont and graduate with a degree in a STEM field, we will give you a helping hand to stay and work in Vermont by paying you back, over the course of five years, for your final year of tuition. Or if you graduate with an associate’s degree in a STEM field, we will pay you back over three years for your final semester of tuition. ...

Next, I commend the Vermont state colleges and the University of Vermont for working hard to hold down tuition increases for next year, and I propose to increase the state’s appropriation for the Vermont state colleges, VSAC and UVM by 3 percent, to be used entirely for financial aid and scholarships for Vermonters.

This is how my affordability plan would work at UVM: my budget increase will be sufficient to hold all entering Vermont students harmless from next year’s 3 percent tuition increase. If Vermont students want to take advantage of the world-class education they can get right here in the Green Mountain State, I want to do everything in my power to help them do just that. ...

Finally, we must do a better job of focusing the education of our children — from grade school through college — on career readiness. We can do a better job of personalizing educational opportunities and integrating technology, career training and internships with traditional classroom education. ...

We must also address our poor performance in math. While we have impressive successes to celebrate in other disciplines, Vermont falls off the rail in high school math. The 2011 NECAP results tell the tale: 68 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 are proficient in math. When they take the test in 11th grade, only 36 percent are proficient. Let me repeat that: 36 percent.

This is as alarming as it is unacceptable, but unfortunately, no one should be surprised. Currently, algebra is required in only 47 percent of Vermont high schools, and geometry in only 31 percent. We can fix this without spending one additional dime. Today, I reiterate my call to require that all ninth graders take algebra and all 10th graders take geometry. Math skills in the new economy are more important than ever before.

We must also do more to utilize our 17 career and technical education centers around the state that provide opportunities for students and adults who need to update skills to advance their earning power. ...

I recognize that today I have asked a lot of our schools, teachers, administrators, parents and children. I pledge to work with you to ensure what I know is our shared goal: that everyone has access to education, throughout their life, regardless of who they are or how much money their parents make, and that they can keep learning and keep developing their skills for the economy of Vermont’s future. ...