Gov. Peter Shumlin says improving education – from pre-school to college – is the key to improving the Vermont economy.
The governor used his second inaugural address to lay out a series of initiatives that he said will lead to a better-trained workforce.
He laid down a challenge to lawmakers, saying without investment in pre-school education and in training workers for today’s jobs, Vermonters will be left behind.
"The rapid change that is required of us is not optional. It will define our success or deliver our failure," he said.
The road to success, as Shumlin sees it, begins at a very young age. He called for a $17 million investment in child care subsidies.
The money would come from the state’s earned income tax credit.
"This bold action will nearly double the state’s contribution to child care for our lowest income families," he said.
Shumlin also wants to increase the number of Vermont students who go to college or who gain additional training in science math and technology. He said he’s heard repeatedly as he talks to employers around the state that they can’t find skilled workers to fill the jobs that are available.
Shumlin questioned whether the state gets what it needs from public education spending.
"We spend more than 50 percent above the national average. And K-12 education spending has grown faster in Vermont over the last decade than any other state in America," he said. "But the following simple fact should alarm all of us: with the vast amounts of money we spend per pupil in Vermont we have failed to move more low-income Vermont kids beyond high school."
Shumlin wants Vermont’s 17 career and technical centers to work more with local businesses to get a better understanding of the skills employers need. And he proposed a 3 percent budget increase for the University of Vermont and the state colleges. He said the money should be used for financial aid or to hold down tuition increases.
"My vision for Vermont education is clear: let’s offer from birth to cap and gown and beyond the knowledge, creativity, civic lessons and career opportunities every Vermont child deserves," he said.
The speech drew a positive reaction from Vermont’s leading business group. Betsy Bishop is president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. She said the governor laid out a bold plan to train the work force.
"And I think that’s something that will be very welcome from the business community. I think we agree with the premise that we need workers both today and tomorrow that have skills that can function in this greater society that relies on technology," she said.
Many of the governor’s initiatives will cost money. Shumlin will address lawmakers again in two weeks to lay out next year’s budget.