The hubris and arrogance of the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education has been in full display this summer, and is one example of why we need change in Montpelier and accountability from State government. The State Board of Education last fall took it upon itself to interpret the Vermont constitution—a job only reserved for the Vermont Supreme Court– in order to twist the meaning of Act 46 to meet its goals, which are to reduce school choice, enjoyed by thousands of Vermont school children for over 150 years, and to turn Vermont’s locally governed schools into an arm of the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education.
The State Board has since carried out its mission to turn Vermont’s education system into a top down state monopoly by scolding and even punishing any local school district which dares to dissent from the State Board’s extra-judicial interpretation of Act 46.
Recently, the Board of Education turned the screws more tightly on dissident districts by requiring onerous burdens on districts that fail to comply with the “preferred model” of governance—requiring endless data from those districts not required of the “preferred” merged districts—in violation of the intent of Act 46, and likely in violation of the Common Benefits Clause of the Vermont constitution.
In a startlingly arrogant statement, Board member Bonnie Johnson-Aten commended the Board for imposing its onerous standards on those who dissent from the State Board’s diktats. She stated: “The bar is set really high. That is important because alternative structures are supposed to be the exception, and I think it is important that it is as high as it is. It shouldn’t be easy for boards.”
So there it is: Vermonters who take time out from the 2-3 jobs they hold trying to support their families, to perform uncompensated public service for their local communities, must be punished if they don’t follow their masters at the State Board.
The State Board this summer has also begun the process of proposing regulations that will have the effect of closing independent schools that are serving Vermont school children where the public schools have failed. These regulations go beyond the scope of the Board’s statutory authority. The Board is requiring independent schools which receive public funds to offer all 12 of the special education requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Board and its allies at the Human Rights Commission, and the Vermont School Boards Association, in a daring display of cynicism, claim that this will provide all students with a full range of special education not afforded to them now. Really? They know these small independent schools have provided educational opportunities for students that have not been offered by public schools, and requiring each of these schools to provide full special education menu will have the effect of closing many of them down, and lessening opportunities for students, many of whom live in poorer, more rural areas of the state.
The fix is in. Montpelier is taking over Vermont’s schools, and turning them into a state run monopoly so that it can amass power for itself. The diversity of educational offerings characteristic of Vermont schools for over 150 years will die, and with it venerable independent schools that have served our children so well for decades.
This kind of cynical overreach needs to stop. Montpelier bureaucrats must stop making unlawful decisions that benefit themselves and their powerful allies. When I am elected attorney general, I will make sure that the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education do not overstep their bounds by imposing illegal rules and requirements. And I will advocate for the continued diversity that has characterized our decades old school choice system—providing our children with the best education from a diversity of sources.
Deb Bucknam is a Republican candidate for Attorney General