Faculty union calls for major increase in state funding for higher education

Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, committed to health care legislation this session during an AFT Vermont meeting in Burlington on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, committed to pushing early educators right to unionize legislation and other bills that benefit unions  this session during an AFT Vermont meeting in Burlington on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — The American Federation of Teachers Vermont on Monday called for a major increase in state spending on higher education.

The union, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and represents college educators and health care workers in Vermont, said that within 10 years the Legislature should fund more than half of the tuition costs at the University of Vermont and the state college system. The state currently pays about 8 percent and 12 percent, respectively, supporters of the plan said.

At a news conference at AFT-VT headquarters in Burlington on Monday, the union also expressed its support for the unionization of early educators and paid sick days for all workers.

Those goals await a Legislature that already faces a $70 million budget when it reconvenes next month.

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, said last year was a “banner year” for unions when lawmakers pushed through the state’s “fair share” bill and passed legislation allowing home care workers to unionize.

“We had some real success stories,” Baruth said Monday.

Deficits, however, are nothing new, Baruth said.

“Each of those years I have been in the Legislature, that gap has been part of the rationale why we can’t do this or why we can’t do that,” the Senate majority leader said. “In a budget situation like we have – in a lingering great recession – what people will need more than anything is help with their bottom line.”

Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, will join Baruth this session to lead the push for union legislation. Both were recipients of awards for their work for unions last year.


The federation is proposing a huge increase in state higher education funding over the next 10 years, at which point the state would fund about 51 percent of state tuition costs.

S.40, currently in the House Education Committee, will set up a study committee to find sources of funding for the Vermont State Colleges and the University of Vermont.

A study committee bill might sound like a shoo-in, but the bill would also commit the state to return to 1980 levels of funding higher education at 51 percent. Currently, the state pays about 8 percent of UVM’s tuition and 12 percent of VSC’s tuition.

“So what we have seen in recent years is a huge cost shift onto the backs of students and families,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, in a phone interview Monday.

Sen. Anthony Pollina. VTD/Josh Larkin

Sen. Anthony Pollina. File photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger

Pollina said the state is not in compliance with its own law that states higher education should be “supported in whole or in substantial part with state funds,” according to Title 16.

“I’m not saying anybody is going to file a lawsuit against the state colleges, but it is an interesting idea,” he said, referencing previous Act 60 lawsuits on public school financing. “We’ve dug a hole that’s so deep that nobody seems to have the courage to start talking about how to get out of it.”

He said lawmakers must fix what they created.

“We only have ourselves to blame,” Pollina said. “I think this is definitely a priority.”

During the AFT meeting, Baruth said money could come from the state’s correctional system.

“I think it is $140 million for Corrections and $85 to $90 million for higher ed,” said Baruth, a UVM English professor. “That’s a society with its priorities distinctly out of whack.”

Decreased state appropriations for Vermont colleges, in part, has led institutions to offer fast-track degree programs aimed at cutting down the four-year academic archetype to reduce the cost of tuition.

Lawmakers last session also passed dual enrollment and “flexible pathways,” or early start, legislation that would cut down on the time it takes to earn a college degree.


Legislation that would give early educators collective bargaining ability, S.52, was introduced last session.

“I am committed this year to trying to see this bill make it through the Senate,” Baruth said. “I am committed, additionally, to other union legislation.”

Nan Reid, a teacher from Burlington, said early educators’ ability to organize has been a four-year battle led by women.

“Providers are forced to bear the burden of inadequate support,” she said.

She said Vermont should follow the path of 14 other states – most recently Massachusetts and Connecticut – to adopt early education unionization. She said early education is critical to a child’s educational development.

“Decades of experience and evidence show that one of the most effective ways to improve education and economic outcomes for all children is to provide high-quality early learning experiences,” she said.


A campaign to offer all Vermont workers seven days of paid leave from work kicked off this summer. The House bill, H.208, is in the Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.

Mari Cordes, president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, has been a nurse for more than 20 years. She said paid sick days are necessary for the health care system.

“It is good for people and it is good for business,” she said.

She said the federation is also committed to a single-payer health care system.

Vermont Early Educators United, United Academics, Vermont State Colleges Faculty Federation and Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals gathered at AFT Vermont headquarters on Monday with unions across the country for the National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education.

The Vermont National Education Association, the state’s major education union, also unveiled a legislative agenda for educators and tuition costs in Montpelier on Monday.


Correction: The current early childhood educators organizing bill is S.52, which was introduced last session. An original version of this article had that bill as H.97, that passed the House in 2011, but was not acted on by the Senate.

John Herrick

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  • Wayne Andrews

    These people have no regard for the working person. Another example of spending 10 years out when we cant handle what we have now.

  • Jim Barrett

    Spend and spend until the entire state is frozen in a bankruptcy…..! Who will benefit from an education when everyone is broke?

  • Dave Bellini

    “Baruth said money could come from the state’s correctional system.”
    Vermont hires most correctional officers as temporary staff without benefits. If the DOC budget is cut I believe the Administration will further increase the use of temporary workers to perform ongoing full time work. Correctional officers remain “temps” for weeks, months or years. Remember, the DOC doesn’t pass laws, doesn’t arrest people, doesn’t prosecute and doesn’t hand down sentences. The DOC has to take whoever the court sends and for as long as the court orders.
    Want to really reduce corrections costs?
    Convince municipalities to help address social problems. Adding more police isn’t always the solution.
    Create a real amnesty program for people without valid driver’s licenses. Some will never be able to afford the reinstatement fees. Design a system for folks to get their driver’s license reinstated that is attainable.
    Do what I’ve been saying for the past 10 years: Let the DOC hire social workers to work out of probation offices. Social workers could work with lower risk offenders who keep going in and out of the criminal justice system. These “frequent flyers” are a resource drain on the whole criminal justice system. They may do well, while on DOC supervision but when their supervision ends they return to old habits. Let’s try some real prevention work and help folks manage their lives and do it because this will help keep them out of the criminal justice system. We all know it’s expensive to get medical care at the E.R. This is the same idea. A social “wellness” program, targeted at those who would most benefit from it.

  • Patty Sullivan

    What if it was agreed that the maximum State funding would not exceed 51% of the 1980 instate tuition adjusted to today’s dollars?

    I was unable to locate the 1980 In State tuition rate.

    Using 1987…
    1987 – $3,198 In State – CPI Calc – $6,575
    * 51% = $3,353

    2013 – 13,344 In State * 8% = $1,068.

    What if a cash grant were awarded to every student who attended 3 years of high school in Vermont with a stipulation that they could spend the funds at any accredited university in the world that capped tuition at $10k. I doubt many students would take up this offer as they want the bells and whistles experience.

    And, I doubt there would be any serious efforts at higher education cost containment unless funding was in some way shape or form capped.

  • Todd Taylor

    I suggest we remove the tax-exempt status of AFL-CIO and all affiliates. That should cover this the new program they want to implement.

  • James Sault

    Well it is simple lets just take there retirement fund and use some of that to fund there well thought out plan and see how well they like it when someone steals from them.

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