UPDATED: Holcombe reappointed as education secretary

Rebecca Holcombe
Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe speaks to lawmakers. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

(This story was updated Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.)

Gov. Phil Scott has reappointed Rebecca Holcombe as secretary of education because of what he called her “fierce commitment” to improving education for Vermont’s children.

“As my administration works to rethink the system, building a cradle-to-career approach that fosters innovation and supports educational and economic goals, Rebecca will be a strong leader and champion for creating more value for our students throughout the entire spectrum,” Scott said in a statement Monday.

Holcombe said it would be a privilege to serve the Scott administration. She said she believes in his goals of making Vermont more affordable and expanding the economy while protecting the vulnerable. “We know strong, efficient, high-quality education are essential to that effort,” she said in a news release.

The governor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year envisioned some significant changes in education finance. He sought to freeze state spending on K-12 education at 2017 levels while expanding the education fund to cover early childhood learning and higher education. Lawmakers declined to go along with his plans.

Holcombe was one of three people recommended to the governor by the State Board of Education. She was first appointed secretary by Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2014.

In the previous biennium, the Legislature undertook a number of large-scale education initiatives such as universal pre-kindergarten and Act 46, the school district consolidation law, that Holcombe has been responsible for implementing.

“We are in the middle of the implementation of universal pre-K and Act 46, and she knows the elements of these programs. She will be able to help the state move forward in both of these areas,” said Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, chair of the House Education Committee.

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, who heads up the Senate education panel agreed with Sharpe and said he was “delighted” the governor reappointed Holcombe who is “one of the most intelligent and competent people” he has ever met. “The final phase of Act 46 will require all of that expertise and more, so personally I’m relieved to have the question settled.”

Holcombe has experience teaching middle school, high school and college students. She was also a principal at the Fairlee School and helped create the Rivendell Interstate School District.

She has degrees from Brown University and Simmons School of Management and a doctorate in education from Harvard. Holcombe also has a principal certification from Lyndon State College and did teacher prep at the Upper Valley Educators Institute.

State Board of Education Chair Stephan Morse commended the governor for his decision. “Rebecca is respected throughout the Vermont educational community, and Vermont students will benefit from her continued leadership,” Morse said.

Updated: This story was updated at 9:23 a.m. Feb. 14 with a quote from Sen. Philip Baruth.

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  • Stu Lindberg

    This lady has absolutely no respect for local control or school choice. Not a surprise that Phil Scott (D) would reappoint her.

    • Howard Dindo

      This “person” believes local residents aren’t capable (uneducated, inexperienced and guided by their “guns and bible”) of understanding the complexities involved in educating their children in a school they paid for. This “person” believes local residents would cut salaries and benefits of school administrators and teachers to what the marketplace dictates and not what the teachers union believes to be “fair and reasonable”! Maybe Betsy DeVos will tell this “person” she has a choice of either offering school choice with vouchers or less Federal Welfare! Let’s see how this “person” responds to a competitive environment versus one of serfdom. And yes, Jumpin’ Phil Scott is a one term liberal “person”.

  • Congratulations Secretary Holcombe; excellent choice Governor Scott.

  • I’m glad to see that we rehired the same person to continue driving down the cost of education, increasing our students’ test scores and increasing school choice.

    • Neil Johnson

      That is hysterical, thanks for starting my day off with some humor and a chuckle. Your sarcasm wasn’t lost on me….thanks.

  • Jamie Carter

    This is an unfortunate appointment for Scott. The Ed system has never been in worse shape. You could argue Holcombe was simply following Shumlin’s vision, but it seems if real change was wanted, it would have started with Holcombe.

    The Legislature is going to oppose Scott at most every turn, seems he should be taking advantage of those areas he has sole authority to change the culture in Montpelier.

  • Matt Young

    I’m hopeful that secretary Holcombe will transform into an advocate for all schools and children and not merely a tool for the big union controlled public education monopoly. The Vermont education board is merely a rubber stamp for the wishes of the teachers union, they recommended secretary Holcolmbe so I’m not very optimistic.

  • Mark Tucker

    Dr. Holcombe is a compassionate child-centered educator. Replacing her at this critical point in time would do significant harm to school improvement initiatives that so many are wishing for.

    With that in mind, for once I would very much appreciate it if at least one of the public school haters who have the time to post here would offer something substantial (not snarky comments about “this lady” or “this person”) that makes a case for the bifurcated public/private school system that so many seem to think is the solution. Start with how to do it for the same or less money than we spend now, and then explain how this would not result in disadvantaging kids with special needs and/or unengaged parents.

    • Matt Young

      Mark Tucker, lots of folks who earn their living from the big public education monopoly seem to have a difficult time understanding another perspective. It’s amusing that you point out people who, “have the time to post on here” as you yourself “post on here”

      • Mark Tucker

        Matt, Ignoring your sarcasm, as I am open to all sorts of perspectives and I’m glad that people take the time to post. Just a little tired of the lack of substance. I don’t actually mind that you see things differently. I’m just wishing you and others would present an analysis of how Vermont can afford to run a split school system where those of means have their “choice” and those without are left to the public education system to take care of. One of the oft-cited complaints about public schools is the expense in the face of declining enrollments. If you want taxpayers to fund education in a multi-school choice environment, then you’ll have to reconcile the challenge of taking half of the remaining kids (maybe more, maybe less) out of the public system while still keeping the public schools running for the remaining half. I have never seen a case where increased choice at public expense improved schools overall. The public schools that remain for the less-mobile families are typically resource-constrained and subpar. That may feel okay for those who can afford to leave the public schools, but it is unfair and in Vermont, against the State constitution.

  • Kathleen Monroe

    Terrible decision. Holcombe is constantly aligned by the press with the insinuated good outcome that followed the formation of the Rivendell Interstate School District. Take a good look at the Rivendell ISD School Budget, at the predictions for how the school district would grow if it were built (“Build it and they will come”) and at the current enrollment figures which include the preschool numbers which weren’t part of the original speculation presented to the taxpayers of Orford, NH, Fairlee, W. Fairlee and Vershire, VT. The District has never even come close to the enrollment projections that won over those who voted for Rivendell’s formation which impacts affordability. Look at the affordability of this little but educationally successful school district and the fact that Fairlee and Vershire gave up school choice, including but not limited to Hanover High School, Oxbow (9th best in the State) and Thetford Academy, for this option. A year ago, Vermont’s Act 46 loomed ahead with its regulations about governance and budget, but Rivendell ultimately was declared exempt from most of Act 46’s provisions because of its interstate status. Look at the travesty of Act 46, the predictions as to its likely success in meeting the expected outcomes and its educational implications in this State. Look at the affordability of the current per pupil spending and the shrinking population of Vermont and the average age of the population on which the burden of taxations falls. I had great respect for Phil Scott and waited and waited for him run for governor. I enthusiastically supported him and voted for him. I am so terribly disappointed.