Bill Schubart: Focusing on three points could really help fix Vermont

Are we simply going to replicate the dozens of square classrooms and offices, a book library and a few labs, or is modern pedagogy paving the way for newer, more cost-effective and efficient learning spaces? File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

To destroy a city, one does not massacre the inhabitants. It only produces generations of gut hatred. You simply destroy places in town where people gather to eat and drink; bear children, heal and die; merchant and merchant goods; teaching and learning; and come together to worship and pray. — A historian talking about the Kosovo war.

Vermonters cannot afford to continue spending money to fix the accelerating dysfunction without a clear vision of what cannot be fixed and what instead needs to be redesigned in a more cost-effective and efficient way. more profitable.

The solutions are not all monetary but rather systemic and must be based on a shared vision realized by courageous leaders.

Every broken element—housing, hunger, transportation, physical and mental health, addictions, environment, child care, criminal justice, public education—has its defenders. But who connects the dots and sees how they are all connected, and how to fix one without addressing the whole thing gets us nowhere but more debt?

The three essential drivers of well-being for Vermonters are:

  • Public Education: (Department of Education) schools and community colleges.
  • Health/Wellness: (Social Services Agency) community health centers, parent-child family centers, health professionals, hospitals and other institutional health service providers.
  • Social and Environmental Justice: (Social Services Agency) the criminal justice system, corrections and the Department of Children and Families.

If we understand that these three essential drivers of community well-being are interdependent, we can begin to form consensus around the changes needed and begin the work of reinvention that takes us from an expensive patchwork of legislative and governmental fixes to much more expensive repairs. effective upstream redesign investments in downstream education, intervention and crisis prevention.


It’s time to reinvent and redesign Vermont’s public education system into one that enables learning. Simply patching up a system that is failing us in equity, access, infrastructure and quality will bankrupt us with no change in results. At $19,340 per student, we spend more per student in public education than all but four other states, even as our public school student population has shrunk by 21,000 since 1997.

There is a movement underway to fund an environmental safety analysis of Vermont schools. Emerging scientific knowledge about safe levels of PCBs, PFAS, lead, microplastics, urea formaldehyde off-gassing and radon in air and water treatment systems have raised concerns. If school buildings are found to be deficient, how much will we spend on mitigating toxins or, as in the case of Burlington High School, building a whole new school without assessing what a modern school should be from a infrastructure?

Are we simply going to replicate the dozens of square classrooms and offices, a library of books and a few labs, or is modern pedagogy paving the way for newer, more cost-effective and efficient learning spaces, can – be integrated into other civic spaces?

Also, try to imagine that public education begins six months after a paid family leave to enable the critical bond of a newborn with its parents. It then becomes compulsory at 3 or 4 years of age, but is accessible from six months to parents who work as “learning centres” and not “childcare services”.

These learning centers would be staffed by fully paid professional early childhood educators with specialist knowledge of pediatrics and child development and trauma-informed counselors to identify negative childhood experiences.

Family support services would be available to work with children and families to address and resolve issues that, when left undetected and unresolved, often regress to special education, the criminal justice system and even incarceration. The starving child who lives in the back seat of his mother’s car does not come to school with learning as a top priority.

To invest in early learning, we need to remove our current, obscure educational architecture – preschool/kindergarten, kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, middle school, high school and college – and view education as a continuum that focuses on the learner individual. Ancient and arbitrary divisions challenge what we know childhood development and distract us from the needs and abilities of the individual learner.

We are at an inflection point in public education. We must come together to rethink it as a cost-effective institution that fulfills our constitutional obligation in a democracy to provide free and effective learning to our youngest citizens. And we need to focus these investments on the ages when human development research tells us that our children and youth are most receptive to learning.

Health care

In health care, any future vision must be seen through the eyes of those who need it, use it, and provide it, not just through the eyes of those who administer or benefit from it.

We need to find the will and leadership to build consensus on patient-centred, community-based health care delivery systems with primary care as the entry point, except in emergencies.

Community health centers, primary care practices, and parent-child family centers are uniquely skilled in identifying and treating not only incipient illnesses but, equally important, sources of trauma and toxic stress induced by negative experiences. from childhood. Treating them in a local setting supports the family as well as the patient.

Community centers are best placed to make the connection between inadequate housing and food, the toll of abuse, substance abuse or an incarcerated family member, and thus offer the easiest and easiest way to initiate measures to initiate and sustain recovery.


Finally, we need to understand our failures in health care and education as major cost drivers in our criminal justice system.

If we were to reinvest a quarter of the $160 million we spend each year to keep people in prison, we could reduce the number of children in Vermont – 6,000 now – who have an incarcerated parent or a parent under correctional supervision.

And Vermont could lower its dubious rank as the fifth most common term of parental rights that removes children from their families. And we’re supposed to be one of the best states to have and raise kids?

I am both grateful and sympathetic to the arduous task of legislating truly revolutionary reform, reform that simultaneously saves taxpayers’ money, improves outcomes and strengthens economic growth.

Health care, public education, and social and environmental justice have become systemic juggernauts loaded with incomprehensible language, inscrutable processes – all championed through the powerful status quo bias of the many feeds of these aging systems. But if there was ever a time to review these bulky systems, it’s now.

We need strategic vision and courage from the executive and its leaders, the courage to change and to face up to those for whom change poses a risk to their privilege and future position in the legislature – all backed by a vigilant and apolitical judiciary.

Failure is no longer an option. Taxation capacity is approaching its zenith for the middle and lower tax levels. The federal tap will close next year and inflation will continue.

Connecting the dots between learning, well-being and justice is the foundation of a vision that truly improves the lives of Vermonters. It interrupts the continuum of intergenerational failure, reduces costs (taxes) and is the best economic development strategy any state can have.

States with superior public education and health care services, shaped by social and environmental justice, will have the strategic advantage of attracting and retaining their future workforce. It could be us.

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