BRATTLEBORO — Tuesday's primary election will mark the first time that Rep. Valerie Stuart, D-Windham-2-1, is being challenged for her seat in her eight years as a legislator. Emilie Kornheiser is seeking the Democratic nomination for the West Brattleboro district.
During her first four years on the Legislature, Stuart served on the House Committee on Education. She said she is proud of laws that helped address poverty and a "shrinking middle class."
Funding went to free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs at schools.
"We have that now thanks to the education committee," said Stuart.
She described dual enrollment as a "great thing" — students can earn credits toward their college degree while still in high school at a lower cost.
Stuart said she is proud of courses offered as an introduction to college studies, which help students whose parents might not have gone to college.
"Education has always been the path to prosperity in our society," she said. "It still is the best way to get ahead."
Her focus is on finding affordable ways for students to learn skills needed to take on jobs that they enjoy and pay livable wages. The Flexible Pathways initiative saw guidance counselors talking with students about how to achieve their career goals.
Stuart said these types of discussions should happen earlier and earlier. She is an advocate for the personal learning plan, which gets students planning their future instead of "scrambling" to do so in 11th or 12th grade.
If elected for the next biennium, Stuart plans to look more closely at funding technical education programs such as the Windham Regional Career Center in Brattleboro. The goal, she said, is to make them "much more operational."
Stuart called herself the primary driving force behind an economic development marketing campaign to retain younger residents and attract new people to live in Vermont. She said the $750,000 budget is not a lot of money.
"But for Vermont it is," she said. "Because we always balance our budget and never have another penny to spare."
She touted a $5,000 loan made available through a first-time home buyer program and is issued by the Vermont Housing and Finance Agency. It was something she worked on during her first term on the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
Stuart credited the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. for its involvement in creating the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone. She said the state appropriated $50,000 to get the effort started. Now, Windham and Bennington counties are working together on a plan on how to address economic challenges in the region.
"It's a good thing," said Stuart. "We're trying to build the Southeast Kingdom, right? We already have the Northeast Kingdom."
Stuart participated in an effort to get the Vermont Commission on Women to look at places where women are working but also not working. The idea, she said, is to get females into well-paid positions and possibly alternative careers.
"That data will be ready in January of 2019," she said. "And that was a first step in trying to solve the problem of women being well represented in certain industries."
Protecting the environment is another important issue for Stuart, who has been part of the House's Climate Solutions Caucus for seven years. She received recognition as one of Vermont Business for Social Responsibility's "climate solutions champion."
Stuart said the Vermont Council on Rural Development brought her idea for a summit to life with the three-day "Catalysts of the Climate Change Economy" hosted in Burlington, which featured more than 500 entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders from across the United States.
"That was really cool," she said. "So I'd like to continue with that."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.