This past week was a very encouraging one in the Vermont House of Representatives, with developments on both the economic development front, and on education reform.
First, the comprehensive economic development bill, on which Rep. Paul Ralston (D-Middlebury) and I have been working, was introduced (H. 736), with every member of our Economic Development Committee as cosponsors.
While members may not support each provision as specifically written, all members are supportive of the overall goals incorporated in the legislation, and are looking forward to delving into it over the next month.
In a nutshell, this legislation is a comprehensive economic development strategy that is designed to spur growth in the private sector in Vermont. Specifically, the bill has two themes:
1) To protect and grow our state’s legacy industries – manufacturing, agriculture, and working lands; and
2) To encourage and reward the investment in, and development of, new technology and knowledge-based businesses.
Among its suite of carefully targeted initiatives, this bill includes:
1) Creation of a One-Stop Shop for business start-ups
2) Greater access to capital
3) Economic revitalization opportunities in downtowns
4) Workforce housing development opportunities
5) Electricity pricing and policy changes
6) Creation of a “Domestic Export” program
7) Overall tax policy changes
Our Economic Development Committee began its review of the bill last week, with an overall summary of the bill and its many provisions, followed by an in-depth look at Section 9, our proposed “Domestic Export” program.
At present, the State of Vermont has in place a program that helps our state’s producers access the international market and export internationally. But we have nothing in place that assists our producers in exporting products domestically. Essentially, we can help connect producers with buyers in Dubai, but not in Delaware. The bottom line is, there is a very large domestic market that our producers should be encouraged to pursue.
This new initiative is designed to do just that by creating a “Domestic Export” program within the new “Made in Vermont” designation program that would: a) connect Vermont producers with brokers, buyers, and distributors in other US state and regional markets; b) provide technical and marketing assistance to our state’s producers; and c) provide matching grants to producers to attend trade shows and other events.
To talk about the need for such a program, we heard great testimony from a number of people, including Jack Gilbert, owner of Gringo Jack’s in Manchester, and President of the Vermont Specialty Food Association, and from Michael Rainville, Owner of Maple Landmark in Middlebury, and President of the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association.
The “Domestic Export” program is just one of many provisions in this comprehensive proposal, so as we continue to work on that, we will be doing our due diligence as a committee, on the rest of the legislation as well.
Education and Education Funding Reform
At the same time I have been busy with the economic development proposal, I am pleased to report that I was invited to the House Ways and Means Committee last Friday to present my Education Transformation Proposal. While I first unveiled this proposal six years ago, I never had the opportunity to present it to the Ways and Means Committee until last week, and I appreciated it very much.
Even more, however, I appreciated the reception the idea received in the committee. Members wanted a full outline of the proposal, and truly wanted to understand it in its entirety.
Before sharing with the Committee the proposal itself, I shared with them the principles I had established those years ago, and since, that guided the process.
First and foremost, the proposal is a comprehensive transformation – in both the delivery and structure of the education system itself, and in the way we fund it. I believe strongly that you cannot separate the two – that they must go hand in hand.
Once that principle was established, I further set the following guidelines for myself:
1. Expanded educational opportunities for our children
2. Improved educational outcomes
3. Reconnection of taxpayers to budgets voted upon and money spent
4. Reconnection of taxpayers to the outcomes achieved
5. Substantially equal educational opportunities for all students throughout the state
6. An equitable and fair, less complex, sustainable funding system
7. Following my presentation, Committee members asked very constructive questions and shared important concerns – from the larger districts themselves to funding equity, and everything in between. It was a great discussion, and I’m hopeful that it was just the start.
In the end, I encouraged the Committee to continue its work on this proposal, and offered my assistance in any way.
Representative Heidi E. Scheuermann