Vermont diversity program expanding to towns

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 5:46 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Breaking down barriers for Vermonters in local government is the aim of a new program that seeks to make the state more diverse.

Inclusion, diversity, equity, action, and leadership is the goal behind IDEAL Vermont. “Is everyone represented at the table? If they’re not now, what do we need to do to make that happen? said Hardwick Selectboard Vice Chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane.

Following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the Hardwick Selectboard was one of many towns to pass an equity resolution as a way to signal that they were a welcoming community. But they wanted to take it a step further and recently signed onto IDEAL Vermont. It seeks to link local leaders with other towns and state agencies to focus on promoting equity in local policies. The program equips towns with workshops, technical assistance, grants, and places to learn from peers across Vermont

“There are simple things, like how can we make sure that all girls in Hardwick have access to the same peer network or mentors?” Galloway-Kane said.

“Think redlining and zoning, think education, policing and public safety -- these are all issues that can be addressed at the state and federal level but also need to be tackled at the local level if we want to move the needle,” said Vermont Racial Equity Director Xusana Davis. She says the aim is to build a foundation in local communities where all Vermonters feel welcome and where people of all races will get involved in local government and politics.

The effort was jump-started by $220,000 from last year’s state budget. Governor Phil Scott says policy at the local level is also a tool to tackle the state’s demographic challenges. “It’s also the right thing to do -- to put ourselves on better footing with a stronger economy, more workers, the best schools, and prosperous communities in every corner of the state,” Scott said.

Fourteen towns have signed onto the program and with nearly 80 having passed declarations of inclusion, officials are expecting more towns to sign on soon.