fact-check Politifact Rebecca Holcombe

Fact-check: Scott’s former education secretary says he’s pushing statewide vouchers. He’s not.

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Rebecca Holcombe at a meeting in 2017, during her time as education secretary. Photograph by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

http://vtdigger.org/“Gov. Scott is pushing for a statewide voucher program that would take millions from our public schools and funnel it to private schools that mostly serve privileged families.”
—Rebecca Holcombe in a press release saying her marketing campaign for governor on July 15.

When Rebecca Holcombe stepped down as education secretary in March 2018, she went quietly regardless of apparent rifts with Gov. Phil Scott. When she announced last week that she was operating to take Scott’s job, she came out swinging.

“I joined Gov. Scott’s administration because I took him at his word that he was serious about working to make Vermont more affordable and more equitable. I resigned when I realized that was just talk,” Holcombe stated in a press release saying her run for governor in 2020.

“We need to create opportunity for every Vermonter to make our communities stronger,” she added, “but unfortunately, Gov. Scott is pushing for a statewide voucher program that would take millions from our public schools and funnel it to private schools that mostly serve privileged families. I simply couldn’t sit quietly by while our governor was pushing policies that left so many Vermonters behind.”

It’s no secret that Scott’s positions on education funding are unpopular with Democrats and far of the education group. His proposal to increase staff-to-student ratio in faculties — partially by having academics take on courses outdoors their expertise — was derided as quickly because it arrived within the Statehouse close to the top of the 2018 legislative session.

But Holcombe’s declare that Scott is “pushing for a statewide voucher program” seemed to open a new line of attack towards the governor — one that was positive to strike a nerve with those frightened about how Scott’s small-government philosophy will information his education plans.

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Such a change would revolutionize the connection between Vermont communities and their faculties. It will primarily create a free marketplace for education, giving mother and father and guardians an annual voucher and letting them ship their youngsters to the varsity of their selection — unbiased or public — versus the one of their district.

Seven Days and the Rutland Herald have already appeared into Holcombe’s attention-grabbing declare, which continues to be posted on her marketing campaign website. We determined the primary shot fired within the 2020 gubernatorial race was value putting to the Politifact check.

Holcombe declined to be interviewed on the document about her declare, but sent an emailed assertion defending it.

“As the Secretary of Education, I spoke weekly with the heads of Gov. Scott’s administration and they made clear that their priority was protecting and expanding private school vouchers, including to schools that don’t serve all students,” she stated in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Holcombe also pointed to a memo from her successor as education secretary, Dan French, “detailing their proposal to create a single statewide school district and statewide voucher program by expanding school choice to non-sectarian independent schools in every part of the state.”

That memo, titled “Designing Our Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Vermont’s Education System,” was offered to VTDigger in December and then mentioned brazenly before the State Board of Education in March.

Education Secretary Dan French speaks during Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press convention on Jan. 30. Photograph by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

In response to the memo itself, it was developed with participation from the governor’s office and his cupboard, together with the secretaries of Commerce and Group Improvement, Digital Providers and Human Providers, the commissioner of Labor.

It says partially: “The system would consist of a single statewide school district. Students would have statewide school choice among all the public schools, technical centers, and non-sectarian independent schools approved by the Agency.”

Nevertheless, the preface to the memo also says: “This document represents the work of a visioning exercise conducted within the Vermont Agency of Education to begin to imagine the design of a modern education system.”

Responding to questions from state board members in March, French stated the memo was meant as a starting place for discussion about the future of Vermont faculties, somewhat than a ultimate coverage proposal.

French stated the two most controversial ideas specified by his memo — a statewide voucher system and a single statewide faculty district — weren’t last answers however somewhat an effort to spark new ideas to deal with systemic challenges.

The secretary stated he was in search of ways “to stimulate a conversation and interest in the future around our policy design.” French stated Vermont needed to provide you with a extra efficient option to handle its faculties, each for value management and to realize higher scholar outcomes.

“My conclusion is the system is overly complex, especially when considering the scale of the system, meaning the number of school districts and the number of students,” he stated. “Complexity is the chief cause of our inefficiency.”

One logical answer to the problem of complexity, French stated, was a single faculty district. And in an effort to give mother and father maximum flexibility in this system, he added, expanding vouchers would break down obstacles.

“That’s where I come to the school choice idea, it’s not as a philosophy, it’s if we had fewer barriers there’s more flexibility,” he defined.

“But the idea would be, well, if you don’t like that conclusion, let’s go back and have a serious conversation about design elements.”

So does French’s memo, mixed together with his look at the state board, quantity to the Scott administration “pushing” a statewide voucher program?

Phil Scott at his weekly press conference on Might 9. Photograph by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

With out understanding extra about inner conversations that Holcombe might have been part of, it’s onerous to say. However French’s tepid presentation earlier than the board, speaking a few memo explicitly described as a conversation starter, does not amount to the administration pushing policy.

Speaking on VPR on the same week the Blueprint was leaked publicly, Scott stated he gave French “great credit” for bringing new concepts to the table. But he also recommended such a radical transformation was not the works.

“I don’t think we’re ready for anything like that at this point,” he stated of the only school-district concept.

Ethan Latour, a spokesperson for Scott, stated in an e mail this week that the governor supports the enlargement of vouchers if that call is made on the native degree.

“The Governor supports school choice and thinks it’s a valuable tool for parents,” Latour wrote. “If the electorate of a school district or supervisory union feels similarly about choice among the schools within its boundaries – and to be clear these are public schools in most cases – the Governor would support those local decisions.”

Latour added that the governor want to see districts which have merged beneath Act 46 supply faculty choice to households inside these new, typically multischool, districts. “This option, encouraged by current law, increases options for children and parents and helps local education districts preserve and expand academic programs,” he stated.

So it’s clear that Scott does help expanding faculty selection, although not necessarily on a statewide scale. His typical spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley (who was on vacation this week), clarified earlier this month that the governor “has not proposed or pursued a statewide voucher program.”

Our Ruling


Holcome stated “Gov. Scott is pushing for a statewide voucher program that would take millions from our public schools and funnel it to private schools that mostly serve privileged families.”

The former education secretary relies on a memo and State Board Assembly during which Scott’s education secretary describes his vision for a statewide voucher program — in both instances with a clearly said caveat that his proposal is meant to provoke an extra conversation.

It’s potential that Scott would really like the state to maneuver towards the type of system described in French’s memo, however he hasn’t publicly advocated for it.

With out understanding what Holcombe heard behind closed doorways during her time in Scott’s administration, we don’t know whether her assertion accurately conveys the administration’s intentions. And Scott is open about his help for expanding vouchers – if communities themselves help the change.

Nevertheless, there isn’t any publicly out there evidence to help Holcombe’s declare that the governor is pushing for a statewide voucher program. Actually, he has stated explicitly that he doesn’t help such a serious change. We fee this claim principally false.


Vermont Agency of Education, “Designing Our Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Vermont’s Education System.” January 11, 2019.

Regional Instructional Television Community, Vermont State Board of Education meeting. March 20, 2019.

Rebecca Holcombe’s statement saying her 2020 marketing campaign for governor. July 15, 2019.

E mail assertion from Rebecca Holcombe on July 23.

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Tags: fact-check, Phil Scott, Politifact, Rebecca Holcombe

Colin Meyn

About Colin

Colin Meyn is VTDigger’s managing editor. He spent most of his career in Cambodia, where he was a reporter and editor at English-language newspapers The Cambodia Every day and The Phnom Penh Submit, and most just lately at Southeast Asia Globe, a regional current affairs magazine. He’s a local of Maine and studied journalism at Northwestern University.

E-mail: [email protected]

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