Dean calls for parental leave bill

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(Host) Governor Howard Dean says the time has come for Vermont to pass a family leave bill that will allow parents to attend important school meetings for the children during the day. Dean says direct parental involvement in their children’s education is the single most important factor in improving student performance.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Vermont Department of Education this week released their annual assessment of standardized test results of virtually every public school in the state. The report includes some startling statistics concerning student performance and parental involvement in school activities.

The report found that low income students, these are students who participate in breakfast and lunch assistance programs, score significantly lower than other students. Department officials also say they can document that the parents of these students have a much harder time getting time off from work to attend activities such as parent-teacher conferences during the day.

Governor Howard Dean thinks these results are a compelling argument for a new parental leave law in Vermont:

(Dean) “I have to be very candid about this, though. This is where you need to look at the issue of parental leave. This is where we may have to have some kind of legislation in the next Legislature that allows and encourages people who work on a salary schedule, who can’t just do what I do as a doctor, which is to decide that I’m not going to see patients a half a day or something and go into the school. Most people can’t do that and those are the people who aren’t showing up – particularly those at the low end of the wage scale. And we’ve got to make it easier for them to do it and we’ve got to do something in terms of encouraging employers to do that.”

(Kinzel) The report also shows that efforts to improve elementary school reading rates have been very successful. In 1999, 73% of all second graders met the standard for early reading skills. This year the number jumped to 81%. Dean says the success of this program can be tracked as students get older:

(Dean) “If you look at the fourth grade reading standards, that’s very high. We’re at the standard in reading for the fourth grade, just as we are in the second grade. I think it is a direct result that now everybody who’s been trained in reading in the second grade has reached the fourth grade. I would hope that in the next couple of years you’d see that coming through the eighth grade so you’re already seeing the ripple effect.”

(Kinzel) Forty-six percent of the second graders who were tested for early reading skills performed at an honors level.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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