Browse to Learn Where I Stand on Issues
As a member of the House Education Committee, I know the scale of the challenges we face to deliver every kid a great education. Learning looks and feels different than it did just years ago. The demands on our educators each day grow in complexity. Likewise, our early care system asks much of our providers to ensure the best quality. I strongly support investments to grow a high-quality early care system that all Vermonters can access and afford. Failure to act is not an option. Vermonters under 40 are making family decisions based on economic realities. For many prospective parents, an inability to access affordable childcare poses a threat to their livelihood. With the demographic headwinds that are impacting the Northeast and rural areas, we can not afford to underfund and undermine our families. We can achieve better learning outcomes, and give our citizens a better shot at achieving a lifetime of opportunity, by investing in our early care and learning system.
I serve on the House Education Committee and have spent many hours reviewing our education finance system. We have a perennial debate about what constitutes an appropriate investment in public education. What’s clear is that our schools are an asset for our communities and learners, so long as we can demonstrate excellent student outcomes. Like many parts of rural America, we face demographic headwinds in the Northeast that are impacting our schools and our workforce. I believe our classrooms will be part of the solution as we seek to train citizens and equip them with the skills to work and settle in Vermont, which will improve the affordability of our education system. We can demonstrate value to taxpayers by improving our career pathways system to create a pipeline to fill in-demand 21st century jobs and careers. Our obligation to sustain and improve Essex Junction’s quality of education comes at a price. Many have expressed concerns about annual property tax increases. Recent reforms (Act 46) slowed the statewide education spending growth. We need to evaluate next steps to make sure Vermont’s commitment to public education is not undermined by unsustainable spending.
We need to make college more affordable. I have been a strong proponent of increasing Vermont’s investment in college and higher education. To grow our economy, we need a well trained workforce. Currently, Vermont ranks at or near the bottom of the 50 states for investment in postsecondary education. As a high school dropout who found success because of the excellent mentors in our Vermont State Colleges system, I know firsthand the value of investing in higher education. During the 2017 – 2018 biennium, I spearheaded two initiatives that resulted in increased funding for higher education. The first was authorizing the first funding increase for the Vermont State Colleges System since the Great Recession. The second was creating a new National Guard Tuition program to provide tuition for Vermonters who serve in the Guard. It was critically Important that we secured funding for our National Guard so more of our service people can access college and other postsecondary training. By doing so, we helped ensure we can maintain a strong force to help when our communities are in need. If re-elected, I will work to pursue new funding proposals to reduce the cost of college for Vermonters.
Apprenticeships and career training should be made available to all Vermonters. I’m always amazed at the range of opportunities students can access at our career and technical centers. The same goes for Vermont Technical College. These are the types of learning settings that we should be embrace as we identify the skill gaps of citizens seeking employment. During the 2018 legislative session, the House Education and Commerce Committees took testimony about the types of career development systems other countries and communities use to equip workers with 21st century skills. What’s clear is that we are missing an opportunity to educate many of our citizens. These models are replicable and hold promise to improve the lives of Vermonters by giving them the tools to compete for in-demand high skill, high wage jobs. We need to embrace the trades as we foster a culture of all skills for all learners. Failure to do so undercuts our economic potential. I am committed to reforming how we get our workers the tools they need to succeed.
Policies for working families, like paid family leave for all Vermonters, can help support a healthy business climate. When I talk to employers, including large community employers like Global Foundries, I make a point to ask what the main challenges are to their success. The employer often tells me that recruiting and retaining skilled workers is one of the main obstacles to building their business. They describe the difficulty of enticing workers to move to Vermont due to the economic difficulties facing two-parent households. We can’t expect to attract these future Vermonters unless they have something to draw them in. That’s why I support creating a paid family leave program to help Vermonters in the workforce grow their family without sacrificing their career. The demographic downturn we’ve seem in recent years can be reversed — I believe we can attract and retain young workers by putting in place policies that allow them to make family choices that fit their career and lifestyle. We need more Vermont families if we want to sustain our communities, schools, and support a health economy. Paid family leave is a smart strategy that will improve our bottom line.
We need real wage growth for workers. I often hear frustration from friends, family and neighbors that wages don’t seem to be keeping up with increases in the costs of living. It’s true — wages in terms of real dollars aren’t keeping pace with most peoples’ needs. These concerns aren’t unique to Vermont. International and national economic forces are putting our wage earners in a tough spot. The proof is evidenced by income inequality. While our economy is expanding, much of the wealth is concentrated in a small group at the top. That’s part of the reason I support raising the state minimum wage for our workers. Some have argued that we ought to wait for a federal minimum wage increase. It is my belief that federal inaction is a poor excuse for delay. State lawmakers can set a floor that provides for basic needs. We should pass a minimum wage bill that puts more money in Vermonters pockets and improves the lives of thousands of workers.
Residents of all ages call Essex Junction home. While our public school enrollments are relatively stable compared to other parts of the state, a growing number of our neighbors are entering or have entered retirement. Statistics show that Vermont is the second oldest state in the nation, and will soon be the oldest. Other statistics suggest that, for certain residents 50 and older, it can be challenging to meet basic needs. It is critical that residents of all ages have the tools to live healthy, productive lives. Our aging population holds a wealth of knowledge and experience. As more and more Vermonters enter retirement age, we should explore how state and municipal programs can be tailored to help residents find success at any age. This will ensure a lifetime of opportunity for those who choose to live and retire in Essex Junction. It will have the added benefit of enriching our neighborhoods for all community members, young and old. During the 2018 session, I supported legislation to create an Older Vermonters Working Group to focus in on how we unlock the potential of our aging citizenry. We need to take the next steps to prepare for our changing demographics.
Year-over-year growth in health care costs constitute one of the single greatest pressures on the budgets of citizens, government, and businesses. All citizens should be able to access health care when they need it. No one should have to chose between preventative care and costly out of pocket expenses. These beliefs aside, there are some limits to what state policy can achieve, especially in a state of modest size, such as Vermont. I support federal initiatives to move our country toward a Medicare for all system that ensures all citizens can access health care without. Gridlock in Washington DC all but ensures that full health care reform is a long-term goal. Lawmakers have an obligation to act at the state policy level. Recent Vermont initiatives to pursue payment reform (All-Payer ACO) have shown promise to slow annual health care costs.I support continuing the move away from fee-for-service toward a value-based payment system. We must continue our focus on preventative care and ensuring all Vermonters can access quality and affordable health care.
We all share concerns about the need to protect personal and sensitive information. In 2017, one of the top issues neighbors contacted me about was concerns about whether Vermont would provide voter information to President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. This federal commission sought to collect sensitive voter information from states. Bipartisan leaders of over 40 states, including our Secretary of State, opposed this initiative. Community feedback was overwhelmingly opposed to the idea that Vermont would turn personal and private data over to the federal government. At the urging of constituents, I worked to develop legislation (H.624) to ensure Vermonters’ voter data would be protected from future searches, limiting federal overreach to collect this information. The bill passed both chambers and was signed into law by Governor Scott. I am proud that we took steps during the 2018 legislative biennium to protect voter information and limit access to personal data sought by data mining companies. We need to be vigilant to safeguard Vermonters’ private and personal information wherever, and however, possible.