John McClaughry

John McClaughry is founder and vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “agency fees” taken by public sector unions from non-members’ paychecks.

Today, Gov. Phil Scott convenes an Education Summit to address “the crisis of affordability and how it impacts the opportunities we are able to provide our children.” In his letter announcing the Summit to education leaders, the governor said that he wants greater long-term cost containment in the public school system.

Governor Scott and Democratic legislative leaders are at loggerheads over realizing $75 million in savings from switching the state’s teachers to a health insurance plan compliant with the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Since 1869 Vermont has maintained a tradition of parental choice in education. Parents in towns with no operating schools, or only K to 6 or K-8 schools, have been able to choose what’s best for their kids from among both public and independent schools, within or outside of the state. There are about 91 such towns now, but there’s a real danger there will be few or none four years from now. Already two partial choice towns - Westford and Elmore – have been swallowed up into unified districts.

The Energy Independent Vermont coalition, led by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, told legislators a year ago that “we can’t ignore the fact that these types of storms” (referring to Tropical Storm Irene) “are predicted to become more common and more intense due to climate change. We owe it our children to tackle this problem head on, and doing so will require significantly cutting Vermont’s carbon pollution from fossil fuels”.

Last month an environmental coalition called “Energy Independent Vermont” announced it would do battle in Montpelier for a new tax – the carbon tax.

The coalition says Vermont needs a new tax on natural gas, heating oil, propane, gasoline and diesel fuel in order to combat what it calls “climate pollution – the biggest environmental challenge of our generation!”

Chief fiscal officer Steve Klein has concluded that the 2015 legislature will face an expected general fund shortfall of from $90 to 120 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2016.

Making the fiscal situation worse is a reduction in Federal Medicaid cost sharing, higher pay and fringe benefits under the Pay Act passed in May, and the pressing need for increasing contributions to pay for retired teacher health costs. Jim Reardon, commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, said in August that he’s running out of one-time pots to raid.

The biennial legislative session adjourned a month ago, and it’s a good time to review the results.

The 2015 General Fund budget grew by 5.6% over the 2014 budget approved a year ago. That means that state spending is increasing about twice as fast as state revenues.

The time of testing for Vermont’s non-sectarian independent schools is now at hand.
 

Always alarmed at any threat of competition, the public school establishment has been shocked by - North Bennington. In that village the school board increasingly worried that pressure for consolidation, emanating from Montpelier, would force the closure of their beloved village K-8 school.