Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vermont does the right thing

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 4/27/10

Rugged individualism was the original guiding ethic of northern New England. Possibly it still is. I know master builders up here who have never yet seen the need to hook up the electricity to their own houses and loggers who do well for their families pulling trees out of the forest with Percherons. But this I wasn’t expecting.

Lisa Rathke of the Associated Press writes that Vermont will not seek millions in a federal grant program aimed at improving failing schools, joining a handful of states in dropping our of the “Race to the Top” program despite strapped education budgets.

The Obama administration requires states to link teacher pay to student performance and invest in charter schools, which would require policy and legislative changes in Vermont.

And Vermont said no to $40 million federal dollars.

“When we look at it realistically, with limited resources, we have to make sure we put our energies and our efforts in places that we know we can be successful in and that fit what the direction of Vermont education is moving in,” said Armando Vilaseca, Vermont Commissioner of Education.

Vermont’s Governor Jim Douglas was the first to run to Washington, D.C. for federal bailout cash although we seem to need it least here in New Hampshire and Vermont than anyplace else. It is a conditioned reflex, felt first in those who do public budgets: Fed funds are free. It takes time to develop the temperament – possibly a new generation – to just say no. The new thinking that says states can and should think for themselves came from a New England tradition and started up here in Vermont and New Hampshire. But oddly enough, took root elsewhere.

Maybe Vermont is finding its old self again under the federal veneer. It is a better self. Scott and Helen Nearing, among the most rugged of rugged individualists, left Vermont in the Sixties when city folk started coming in by the bundles. Scott didn’t like them. One neighbor even forgot to feed his horse. Vermont was becoming a detached borough of New York City. So they moved way off into the forest. It is conceivable now that if they were still alive, they might even begin to think of coming back.