Last week, I received several e-mails regarding S.82, the Campaign Finance bill, encouraging me to vote no. I strongly agree that we should do more to get money out of politics but that is easier said than done given the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in recent years. While S.82 does not go as far as some of us would like, it is a step in the right direction, while still maintaining constitutionality. As a matter of fact, it lowers the amount that I can accept in campaign contributions running for State Representative. I voted for S.82 because I felt it was better to have some kind of campaign contribution limits, as opposed to none, which is what we have now.
The week started with a trip to Burlington on Monday for an Education Summit, which was organized by several legislators and sponsored, in part, by UVM. The keynote speaker was Tony Wagner, an education expert at Harvard who wrote The Global Achievement Gap and, more recently, Creating Innovators. In his talk, he pointed out that, years ago, the one-room schoolhouse was reinvented for the industrial economy; but we no longer have an industrial economy and we need to reinvent education. He talked about the new skills needed by our children - the "seven survival skills." They include critical thinking and problem solving (asking the right questions); collaboration across networks and leading by influence, not by authority; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; the ability to access and analyze information; and curiosity and imagination.
Increasingly, employers want someone who can just go figure things out and in most of today's schools that is not what we prepare our children to do. In many cases, our schools reward individual achievement rather than teamwork. Wagner also referred to the "F" word - failure - and pointed out that innovation demands risk-taking, but with risk sometimes comes failure. In most of our classrooms, failure is to be avoided and, therefore, risk-taking is not encouraged, but that is exactly what many of our most successful companies are looking for. Fifteen percent of Google employees don't have a college degree!
Tony Wagner's speech was truly inspirational. He holds up the education system in Finland as a model we should look at. Teachers there are the best and the brightest and are extremely well-prepared. If and when we choose to reinvent our educational system, we should keep in mind that the best and the brightest also deserve to be well paid.
I prefer to think of education spending as the best investment we can possibly make in our future. While it is imperative to be cost conscious and careful as we put together our school budgets, the investment we make in our children is critical and may make the difference between someone who is well prepared for a career and citizenship and someone who is not.
It was also great to see my friend and Windham Central Supervisory Union colleague from Dover, Laura Sibilia, at the Summit. Her dedication to the education issue is heartening!
Governor Peter Shumlin gave his budget speech on Wednesday. He began by citing many of the positive aspects of our economy - our unemployment rate is fifth lowest in the country; 11,000 jobs have been created in the last three years; and in 2013 alone, 2,000 jobs have been created in the manufacturing and professional services sectors. While that is all encouraging, we still have some hard work to do. After several years of making significant budget cuts, we once again have to close a $71 million gap between spending and projected revenue. Since we always pass a balanced budget, some difficult choices may need to be made.
The very good news for the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee is the governor's commitment to the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative. Governor Shumlin has included this year's money in his base budget, making it more permanent, and increased it by 5 percent over last year. The other good news is the governor's continued support for the Farm to Plate Initiative (F2P).
Speaking of which, this week we had a report on F2P. When F2P was passed in 2009, one of the goals was to double the amount of Vermont-produced food consumed by Vermonters over the course of 10 years. If that goal was reached, it was estimated that 1,500 jobs would be created in the food sector over the 10 year time period. The wonderful news is that after four years, at least 2,162 food system jobs have been added as well as 199 food system establishments. Vermont is way ahead of the curve on the local foods movement and we want to stay that way!
Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, is chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Forest Committee.