Gov. Phil Scott says his pick to serve as the state’s new secretary of education will help his administration curb spending growth in public schools.
Dan French, a career educator from Manchester who was named Vermont's "Superintendent of the Year" in 2009, will take the helm at the Vermont Agency of Education on Aug. 13. At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Scott called French “the right person with the right experience at the right time.”
“This is a pivotal moment in the history of public education in Vermont,” Scott said Thursday. “The education system is being weakened by our challenging and changing demographics, and an increasingly inefficient system that’s diverting budget dollars away from the kids.”
Scott’s first term in office has been defined largely by his push for cost-containment in a public education system that now costs $1.7 billion annually.
In 2017, Scott called for legislation that would impose hard caps on education spending at the local level. In 2018, he sought reductions in staffing levels at public schools that he said would shave as much as $300 million in spending over the next five years.
Lawmakers in the Democratically-controlled House and Senate have resisted Scott’s proposals, saying they would undermine the principle of “local control” that has long governed education spending in Vermont.
French has worked at all levels of the education system in Vermont, from a high school social studies teacher in the Northeast Kingdom to superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union.
He said he thinks the governor has accurately diagnosed the problem in Vermont schools, and that he’s supportive of the education overhauls the Scott administration has proposed over the past two years.
“I’m very attracted to the strategic nature of the governor’s plan,” French said. “We’ve had to struggle, you know, trying to figure out a way to control our spending. I think spending is an issue, as well as figuring out how to pay for it."
French most recently worked as coordinator of the school leadership graduate program at Saint Michael’s College.
Scott picked French from three finalists sent to him by the State Board of Education. Board chair Krista Huling said of French's appointment: “We are very lucky in the state of Vermont to have Dan French and his experience.”
French will take over the cabinet-level post from acting Education Secretary Heather Bouchey, who assumed the position after former Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe abruptly resigned as of April 1.
Holcombe has since been a vocal critic of Scott’s cost-containment proposals for the education system.