Vermont’s education secretary let the cat out of the regulatory bag on Wednesday. He acknowledged that state regulation of approved independent schools is, as Willy Shakes put it, “more honored in the breach than the observance.”
Dan French was speaking to the state board of education, a body not known for an aggressive attitude toward the AIS’s. But this time, they’d had it up to here.
VTDigger’s Lola Duffort reported on French’s testimony, casting it primarily in terms of the troubled Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Kurn Hattin gave up its license to operate a residential treatment program in the face of enforcement action by the Department of Children and Families (the department cited a pervasive culture of abuse) — and yet, the Ed Agency rubber-stamped Kurn Hattin’s status as an approved independent school.
Well, on Wednesday we found out how the agency arrived at that curious conclusion. And it ought to send shivers down the spine of every parent and educator and, heck, every taxpayer in the state.
(Headline is a paraphrase of Charles Bukowski, everybody’s favorite wholesome all-American writer)
Got a full slate once again, including how the feds’ ignorance of Vermont’s governmental structure is screwing up Covid relief, a couple of lazy media tropes on display, an ex-cop dumping on his hometown, and… wait for it… the first-ever Own Veepie. Let’s get to work, or whatever this is.
Let’s start at the U.S. Treasury, which earns the We’re Not Bending Our Rules for You; You’ll Have to Do the Bending Award thanks to its ignorance of Vermont’s structure of governance. Unfortunately, this has thrown a great deal of uncertainty into federal Covid relief for cities and towns. The federal aid is meant for state, county and municipal governments, which is fine in a state with robust county governments. In Vermont, the counties do very little and have minimal budgets.
Even so, the feds have insisted that our share of the loot be distributed on their standard formula. This means that cities and towns will get substantially less than previously thought — like, roughly two-thirds less. This was first reported late last week by the Times Argus, based on communications to the Barre and Montpelier city councils. Several days later, VTDigger posted a much more complete accounting. The Legislature will decide how to redirect the “county Covid funds,” and could do so however they wish. That’s a worrying prospect, but Digger says that state leaders agree that the money should go to cities and towns. That’s good, but why do we need to clean up the Treasury’s mistake?
One more thing: According to Digger, the Treasury granted exceptions for other states with weak county governments (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts) but not Vermont. Why not? Are we too small to warrant the Treasury’s attention?
Still to come: Inadequate reporting times two, a temper tantrum from a former top cop, and the Veepies come back to bite me.
Well, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray kinda stepped in it, as she tried a little too hard to celebrate Vermont and Vermonters yesterday. In response to the news that we’ve passed the 80% vaccination mark, Gray tweeted out a quote from Calvin Coolidge, staunch conservative and native Vermonter.
I love Vermont… most of all, because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.
Seems benign, right? Nice gesture by a prominent Democrat to promote a famous Republican (albeit a dead one)?
Well, maybe not if you’re a Vermonter of Native American heritage.
The people of Vermont “are a race of pioneers,” huh? That pretty well covers white Vermonters. But it excludes the people who were here first, and who were nearly exterminated by that doughty “race of pioneers.”
A big ol’ victory lap for our hard-drivin’ Governor Phil Scott today, as Vermont became the first state to surpass the 80% threshold for vaccinations and he got to announce the end of all state-mandated Covid restrictions.
And he deserves the spotlight on this day. He steered the Stock Car of State through the crisis and got us over the finish line. Sure, he cut corners occasionally, traded a little paint here and there, and nicked a guardrail or two, but he’s in the winner’s circle and nobody can take that away from him.
I’ve been critical of the governor on occasion. He always insisted all his decisions were based entirely on data and science, when he obviously considered economic impacts as well as the data. His administration was very slow to react to the unemployment insurance crisis, and the system has never really been fixed. He refused to prioritize inmate vaccinations when that would have been a simple thing to do.
But we got through it just fine, sometimes despite Scott’s actions and, far more often, because of his steady, prudent leadership. He wasn’t perfect, but we’re coming out of the pandemic about as well as one could possibly expect. He’s in charge, and he gets credit for that.
Among other things, it shows what we are missing when one of our two major political parties stops caring about governance.
I’m glad to know that everything’s absolutely fine down Rutland way. No issues, no challenges, just unicorns and rainbows all day long.
That must be the case, because otherwise how to explain a majority of the Board of Aldermen* voting in favor of amending the city charter (Rutland Herald story, you may encounter a paywall) to enshrine the “Raider” nickname for Rutland High’s sports teams? That’s right: Change the freakin’ charter because they’re butthurt over the loss of a racist nickname. As Rep. William Notte wrote in an essay submitted to the Herald, “Nothing positive will come of this discussion.” Because there’s no way the Legislature would ever approve this.
*Speaking of which, “AlderMEN”? Really? Is this 2021 or 1921, guys?
More on this in a moment, but first we have breaking news about an upcoming outbreak of racism town hall meeting scheduled for next Wednesday in Rutland. It will be a gathering of Vermont’s anti-“critical race theory” dead-enders. Yup, the handful of folks who believe that fighting racism in the public schools is a threat to our American way of life.
The details: It’s organized by a Rutland-based group called Vermonters for Vermont, last seen helping to bring a busload of Vermonters to the January 6 Capitol insurrection. They’ll be gathering at the Vermont State Fairgrounds at 6:30 on Wednesday, June 16 for an evening of rabble-rousing by the likes of Rep. Art Peterson, former gubernatorial candidate John Klar, Mill River Union School District troublemaker Todd Fillmore, and newly-elected Essex school board member (and proud anti-anti-racist) Liz Cady. Klan robes optional.
Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.
First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.
And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.
In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.
There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!
After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is, as far as I can tell, an unprecedented phenomenon in Vermont politics. (Someone with longer tenure than I may recall a comp.) In a state where “Wait Your Turn” is the norm, she entered the arena at the age of 36, ran for a statewide office, defeated a strong field in the Democratic primary, and defeated Republican Scott Milne by a comfortable margin in the general election. Considering the dominance of Democratic men in higher offices, her gender makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
Somehow, I don’t think we’ve fully appreciated how rare and special this was. In February 2020, as she was preparing to launch her campaign, she was an almost complete unknown. (Well, she was an assistant attorney general, but there are dozens of those.) Nobody in the Statehouse had a clue, nor did they take her seriously at first. The betting favorite, and it wasn’t close, was then-Senate president pro tem Tim Ashe.
Once in the race, Gray ran a nearly flawless campaign despite having no experience in electoral politics. That’s immensely difficult to do.
But Gray has often received more criticism than credit. (Yes, including from me.) There are good reasons for some of that; but much of it has to do with two things about Gray that are rare in our politics: Her age and her gender. And that’s troubling.
Sharp-eyed readers with too much time on their hands may have noticed that one of my posts from last week is no longer there. This is because, for the first time in my years-long blogging “career,” I’ve taken down something I posted.
I’ve made corrections whenever warranted. But this time, my mistake undermined the point I was trying to make and it can’t be fixed through a simple correction.
The post was about the new owner of the Vermont Lake Monsters, who heads up RockFence Capital, an investment fund that loans money to minor-league baseball players. If the player doesn’t reach the majors, he gets to keep the money. If he does make the big time, he has to repay the money with interest.
But I centered the post on Ozzie Albies, second baseman for the Atlanta Braves. And I’ve learned that Albies is not, and has never been, a client of RockFence. Other players in similar circumstances are RockFence clients, but not Albies.
In my judgment, the post is flawed beyond salvage. So I’ve taken it down, with apologies to RockFence.
There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.
There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.
But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.
It was a little like Old Home Week. Eleven of the 30 state Senators, none wearing a mask, gathered on the steps of the Statehouse Wednesday morning for a… live, in person PRESS CONFERENCE. Wowee.
Everyone was happy to be back together, and even happy to see a gaggle of reporters hoping to glean some actual news out of the occasion.
The cause for the gathering was a mutual wankfest recap of the Senate’s legislative record in the past session. Hearty congratulations all around, and seldom was heard a discouraging word. I’m sure the assembled solons would love for me to recap their lengthy list of accomplishments, but, well, not my job.
They did manage to make some news amidst all the mutual back-slapping. “We’ll be back for a veto session,” said Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, ending all doubt on that score. She said the House and Senate are likely to try to override all three (and counting) of Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes. Also, if time allows, the Legislature may try to pass a few bills that came just short of the finish line before adjournment. Balint didn’t offer any particulars; she was due to meet with House Speaker Jill Krowinski Wednesday afternoon to plan the session, which would probably happen later this month.
I’m glad to see that the Kumbaya stuff has its limits. Legislative leadership made a point of trying to maintain a good relationship with Gov. Phil Scott during the session, and that’s fine. It’s even better that they know there’s a time for the Kumbaya to end. And Scott struck the first blow with his three questionable vetoes. Good to see leadership respond appropriately. If they can actually override all three, they’ll be sending a strong message to the fifth floor.
Other news came courtesy of Senate Institutions Committee chair Sen. Joe Benning. He talked of preparations for reopening the Statehouse for the 2022 session.