Gov. Scott calls on lawmakers to create new path forward for VSC
Governor Phil Scott addressed Chancellor Jeb Spauldings recommendation to close three Vermont State College campuses. The Board of Trustees is delaying the vote, but the Governor is calling on lawmakers to create a new path forward for the VSC.
“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont State College trustees faced a difficult and unsustainable financial reality: A declining enrollment and systemwide overhead costs rising much faster than tuition and taxpayers can afford. The board has been signaling for years that the system is not financially sustainable. We’ve seen many private colleges across the country close for similar reasons. Now, accelerated by the economic impacts of the pandemic, we must have some difficult discussions about how to save the state college system," Gov. Scott said.
“It is important to note, the challenges our state colleges face are not unique to higher education. The fact is, we face similar structural problems in our preK-12 education system as well, but the state college system can’t rely on property taxes to cover its continuously rising costs."
Governor Scott says there are only three ways to move forward, either go with the closure plan, ask tax payers to foot the bill or save the college system and use it to strengthen the states education system.
“To be clear, I don’t support adopting the current plan as proposed or asking taxpayers to bailout a system that is no longer financially viable. There is a far better, more positive path forward – including for the communities that rely on state college campuses to sustain their local economies – if we are creative and committed to the hard work ahead," Scott said.
“For this reason, I’m calling on the Legislature to begin work immediately on a statewide plan to rethink, reform and strengthen the education system in ways that are fair and equitable to every student, every community and every taxpayer," he said. “In fact, I believe it is possible for Vermont to emerge from this crisis on a path toward having the very best education system in the country, and ultimately, in the world."
At a virtual press conference on Sunday, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman invited lawmakers, and leaders from VSC unions to speak about the recommendation to close three campuses.
This comes as Senate President, Tim Ashe and Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson say change is necessary but a closure vote with no public plan for students -- faculty or staff - is not appropriate.
Lawmakers from the impacted regions say that while some action has been taken to support the state college system, more could be done.
"There have been additional requests, there have been affirmative responses and now in the covid crisis, we know that there is additional need, over and above the appropriation, and we are committed to addressing it, said Chittenden County Senator Jane Kitchel.
"We're finally seeing the result of the neglect over the years, and were seeing not only a lack of support, but they are no longer able to stay in business, I think it is a wake up call for some legislators," said Sen. Anthony Pollina of Washington County.
Lawmakers say the Board of Trustees does have the authority to close the schools if that is the ultimate decision, but it is unclear who has the final say as the state owns the campuses.