Editorial: Gov. Scott: Collaboration lite?

Gov. Scott proposed a kernel of a good idea midway through his State-of-the-State speech this past Thursday — the creation of a universal afterschool programs that aligns the students’ day with the length of the workday.

The idea, he told those gathered at the Statehouse, is based “on a successful model from Iceland focused on preventing drug use as well as improving academic and social outcomes. And the evidence is clear: Kids who participate in afterschool activities and programs do better in school and in life than kids who don’t.”

It would be voluntary, he said, so that kids who currently go home to their families or participate in other programs — drama, sports, music, debate, or older kids who work after school — could continue doing so. It has the added benefit, of course, of being a big help to working parents who could pick their children up at their end of their workday — and not leave them unattended for those couple of hours at the end of each afternoon.

It is an excellent idea that should be wholeheartedly pursued. To that end, the governor passed the ball to Education Committee Chairs in the House and Senate to “give this idea some genuine consideration. It is my hope we can work together to deliver a plan by the end of the year that puts us on a path toward universal afterschool programs,” but then he added,  “without raising property tax rates.”

How does he expect schools (or anyone else) to offer two to three hours of afterschool program for thousands of students at no cost? He doesn’t. He wants to toss out the idea and give it his support, have Democrats in the Legislature develop the plans and suggest the appropriate ways to fund them, and then jump back into the discussion as a governor who objects to the cost and fights to keep Vermonters taxes down.

It would be far better had he developed the framework of a plan over the summer and fall (copied from Iceland and tweaked to suit Vermont), proposed a source of funding, and then said he hoped to get Democrats on board. That would be strong leadership, not the political two-step as he ducks responsibility for the inevitable cost ahead.

We’ll learn more in two weeks when the governor makes his budget address, but if he doesn’t allocate any funding for this in the near term he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too: taking credit for the idea, while setting the stage to blame Democrats for raising taxes to make it happen.

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What’s so wrong with this approach is that it runs directly counter to the governor’s appeal for collaboration among parties that he so eloquently addressed in the first paragraphs of his speech.

“We meet at a time in our nation’s history when too many elected officials, on both sides, are choosing confrontation and partisan politics over collaboration and progress. Polarization — the ‘us versus them’ — is our national’s greatest threat. It’s weakening our country and the very foundation on which it was built.”

We appreciate Scott’s sentiment and fully agree, but the first step in that delicate dance is to be honest with proposals — and suggesting that creating a universal afternoon program can be done without raising taxes (of some form or another) is not sincere and is meant to tag the other party with that responsibility.

Similarly, Scott does the state no favors by saying that any concrete actions by Democrats to reduce Vermonters’ carbon footprint won’t happen with his approval if it raises costs in the short term. Such a stance would essentially block many renewable energy initiatives that could reduce Vermonters’ cost a few years down the road. That, in no way, is a collaborative approach.

And as much as the governor has made Vermont’s declining population and loss of younger Vermonters a core issue, he has done very little these past three years about it. That’s because he offers tiny programs that give the appearance of doing something, while the heart of the problem is untouched. It’s why the problem is greater today than it was four years ago, and it’s why the governor once again recognizes it as a “demographic crisis.” To move the needle on this issue, the state has to use greater resources more effectively — that is, invest in programs that yield greater returns than what they cost even though that may not happen in the first few years. So far, Scott has failed to do so.

And while the governor is right to harp on making Vermont more affordable, he opposed phasing in a $15 minimum wage and improving family leave provisions — two major initiatives that would help keep young Vermonters in the state. A third major issue, affordable childcare, wasn’t even mentioned in his State-of-the-State speech.

We sincerely appreciate that Gov. Scott struck a cordial tone and portrayed a positive outlook for the state, but honey-coated words only go so far. His budget address later this month will tell if he’s willing to collaborate and truly invest in Vermont’s future, or whether young Vermonters will continue their flight under his watch.

Angelo Lynn

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
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