At a federally funded summer program for Winooski children, Rep. Peter Welch said President Trump's proposed cuts to federal education programs highlight the fact that some elected officials in Washington have abandoned their fundamental duty to constituents.
“You know, my view in Washington is that our job, with the budget and with everything else, is to take actions that make it more possible for people back home – our educators, our first responders – who are doing the hard work really where the rubber meets the road, make their jobs easier so they can be successful with our young children who are going to become active citizens and help build our future,” Welch said.
The proposed budget in Washington would cut funds to Community Learning Centers. The funding stream helps local school systems provide after-school and summer programs where school-aged children can spend time working on math and literacy skills.
According to Welch, those federal funds help pay for programs at more than 100 locations around Vermont, serving 15,000 young Vermonters a year. The total federal contribution, Welch said, was about $5.7 million in 2015 and 2016.
“So essentially you’ve got this decentralized model of delivering services, and of course that’s because our kids are in communities all across the state, and it’s a little bit of money that goes to each community but it really makes the difference in the ability of [people] like the superintendent and the folks here to be able to deliver those services,” Welch said at a news conference at JFK Elementary School in Winooski.
Winooski School District Superintendent Sean McMannon said the city’s Community Learning Center program serves more than 600 students – more than 70 percent of the district’s students. Among those who use the Community Learning Center, McMannon said, 70 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, meaning they live in low-income households.
“As we have seen the percentage of students living in poverty double in Vermont over the past five years, and the income inequality gap grow, [this program] can play a really important role,” McMannon said, adding that the program can help low-income families by giving kids a safe, supervised place to be while parents work full-time or pursue education or job training.
“This can and does help break the cycle of poverty,” McMannon said.
In Winooski, where many immigrant families have settled in recent years, McMannon said the program can help make sure all of Winooski’s students have the support and opportunity they need to have a productive education.
Welch said the diversity of Winooski schools is an asset, and praised the school for embracing diversity (at JFK elementary school, students speak 23 different languages); he said President Trump doesn’t appreciate the need to support that work.
“He thinks it’s a big deal to run a big corporation, try running a school where you’ve got 23 different languages that are being spoken,” Welch said. “I mean I am just so amazed at our teachers and educators and their ability to figure out how to do it and help these kids become good citizens.”
McMannon said diversity in Winooski’s schools makes it easier to provide students with a good education.
“And having so many different languages is an incredible asset in our view,” he said. “And it’s a gift to have that in Vermont. While we live in one of the whitest states in the nation, we have cultural diversity, linguistic diversity. So our students in Winooski are growing up with an experience that’s very different, and it’s really preparing them for the world, and we should be embracing and investing in that.”
McMannon and Welch said federal funding for Community Learning Centers is exactly the kind of investment that’s needed, and efforts by some Republicans in Washington would hurt the education system overall, and especially students from low-income households.
“You know, a lot of Republicans who have been fiscal conservatives, including our presidents, have had a big focus on service – young people trying to serve their country not just in the military but through programs like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps Vista,” Welch said.
“And service has been a value that Republican and Democratic presidents have advocated, and we’ve seen that reflected in the budget, where those programs for young Vermonters or teachers, who don’t get paid an awful lot but work really hard, have that opportunity to serve. And we’re taking those programs out of the budget, and it’s astonishing to me that a president would actually propose that. It’s embarrassing.”