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Kids foot the bill for state response to pandemic

If Gov. Phil Scott gets his wishes, schools will open with less counseling, less support, more stress, more uncertainty, and poorer learning

Dan DeWalt, one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher at Leland & Gray Union High School. He is a longtime activist for social justice, clean energy, and peace.


On May 20, Governor Phil Scott laid out his administration’s plans for helping Vermont recover from the economic blow delivered by the COVID-19 virus.

He laid out plans for dairy and agriculture, small and medium-sized business, renters and landlords. Even the homeless, so often ignored, have been considered by this plan and may see some relief.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the governor assumes the mantle of a COVID-fighting superhero, taking good care of his state.

But just a few days earlier, his Captain Covid cape must have been at the dry cleaners, because he donned his usual Governor Grinch outfit, then delivered an opinion worthy of Betsy DeVos: that, to his mind, our children are not only doing just fine during this lockdown, but, indeed, they could do with less next year.

Businesses large and small will be given grants, loans, assistance — anything to keep them strong.

But the future of our state, our children — who have the least amount of power during this crisis and who have been manipulated the most by the changes from lockdown mode — are hurting the most.

They are being asked to shoulder the burden of paying for the expenses of the Vermont COVID-19 response.

* * *

Scott is calling for all school budgets, even those passed with strong support, to be revoted.

It’s funny how a Republican with so much supposed respect for Vermonters never trusts them to vote on their school budgets. He is constantly reminding us that we don’t really understand what we’re doing when we pass them.

He must never come around at Town Meeting time, when not only are Vermonters aware that their tax bill is connected to their school budget, but in many towns folks will be doing the calculating to give a best guess at just what the tax lability will be (in spite of it being incredibly difficult to decipher the ever-opaque formula provided by the Legislature.)

No, he respects Vermonters opinions only when they agree with him.

Governor, this is one issue on which many disagree with you.

In spite of the fact that it is expensive to educate a small number of children in a complex geographical space, we actually care about their futures. We understand that our well-being is dependent on theirs. We need them to thrive so that Vermont’s future will be in capable hands.

This makes about as much sense as you offering folks $10,000 to move here while ignoring needs like child care and doing your best to close down many of the small-town schools that would be especially attractive to these new inhabitants.

* * *

Why is there no talk about a short-term wealth tax for the next couple of years to help with the shortfall?

Silly question!

Scott is a good Republican who wakes every morning with a no-tax mantra in his head. Never mind that the wealthiest Vermonters are in the best position to help out at this moment. We wouldn’t want to ask too much of the big people; we’ll just take it out on the kids.

Why not a push to finally enact taxation and regulation of marijuana, potentially filling the coffers with millions of dollars? No, the governor would rather sit back with his ridiculous notion that, while we can all smoke it and have it, we aren’t really using it until he figures out how to make a road test for it.

In the meantime, all that potential money is going up in smoke while he thinks that we should let the schools take a hit.

* * *

Perhaps the governor hasn’t gone along on any of the food delivery runs that the schools are making.

Perhaps he hasn’t spoken with any students who before the lockdown were able to use school as a safe place to avoid household trauma and to receive empathy, care, and learning.

Perhaps he hasn’t checked in with the teachers who, on two days notice, had to invent a brand-new teaching method and roll it out at the same time.

Perhaps he hasn’t noticed his teacher neighbors who have increased their daily workload to serve students in a situation that is not at all conducive to support and learning.

Perhaps Phil Scott just doesn’t care.

* * *

Our students needs will be greater than ever if and when we start back to school in the fall. If Scott gets his wishes, schools will open with less counseling, less support, more stress, more uncertainty, and poorer learning.

This scenario might be a fine legacy for Phil Scott, but it not acceptable for Vermont. We can do better.

We must push back against this shortsighted notion.

We must get the Legislature to support our schools, tax those who can afford it, raise new revenues when appropriate and possible, and stop the governor from taking all of his fiscal frustrations out on the backs of our children.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #567 (Wednesday, June 24, 2020). This story appeared on page B3.

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