Jeffords Center Continues to Shape State Policy with New Report
- By Jon Reidel
In his “The Forgotten Agenda” address on October 2002, Sen. James M. Jeffords wrote that “more than 25 years ago the federal government promised to pay 40 percent of special education costs for children with disabilities. Today we only pay 18 percent of the costs. That is not just a broken promise for one of the richest nations in the world, it is an outrage.”
Jeffords, who left the Republican Party in May of 2001 due in large part to the Bush administration’s refusal to allocate tax cut savings to help fulfill the promise of full federal funding for the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), continued to advocate for children with disabilities until his retirement in 2006. The opening of the James M. Jeffords Center in 2008 carried on his legacy by providing analysis and information to promote effective policy decisions in education, the environment, health care and effective government -- hallmarks of Jeffords’ career.
A recent Jeffords Center report commissioned by the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS) and the commissioner of the Department of Education (DOE) recommends ways to maximize resources to serve the children its namesake spent his life trying to help. “Identifying Opportunities for Integrated Service Delivery to Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Disabilities” calls for the State of Vermont, a national leader for continuum of care thanks to the work of educators and human service professionals to coordinate services, to transform the Department of Education into an agency.
“This report is the result of our recent collaborative study of the delivery of services to children, youth and young adults with disabilities in Vermont,” says Jeffords Center Director H.W. “Bud” Meyers, a professor at UVM since 1971 who also served as Vermont’s deputy commissioner of education (2000-2004). “We anticipate that it will spark reasoned debate and action toward system changes needed to place families at the center of Vermont’s service delivery system.”
The recommendation to transform the Department of Education into an agency supports a current bill (H-440) in the Vermont State Legislature that would eliminate the position of commissioner of education and create a governor-appointed secretary of education who would be a member of the governor’s cabinet. The report also identifies several positive findings related to cooperation between AHS and DOE, but also finds “duplication of services, conflicts of eligibility regulations, gaps in coverage for needed services and frustration felt by service providers and families alike.” The kinds of problems created by barriers to collaboration between human services and education can apply to other services of state government as well, it suggests.
”The move to the cabinet by the secretary of education would be only a first step toward a vertically integrated state administration,” says Meyers, who testified before the House about H-440 and the report’s relationship to integrating education and human services in the governor's cabinet, and to the senate about drop-outs and extending the mandatory age for schooling to age 18.
Keeping the Jeffords dream alive
Before interim President John Bramley left his job as provost in 2006, he wrote a paper calling for the university to increase its role in the area of public policy by producing applicable research on topics of public significance. “My vision (for the Jeffords Center) was that it would help focus and coordinate the university's tremendous resources and expertise to support policy development, particularly in education, health care and environment -- areas central to the senator’s career,” said Bramley prior to his return to UVM as interim president in August of 2011. “I also hope that it will stimulate exciting, meaningful new learning opportunities for students to engage on these important topics.”
The “Identifying Opportunities” report is a prime example of Bramley’s vision and could have major implications if policy makers adopt some of its recommendations. It’s among more than a 100 independent policy-based research papers produced in recent years by the Jeffords Center, which has contracts with the Vermont tri-branch collaborative (Vermont Legislature, Vermont Supreme Court, Vermont Agency for Human Services).
Earlier this year, the Jeffords Center conducted an evaluation on school consolidation related to Act 153 and presented a “Report on Voluntary School District Merger Activity and Process” to the state legislature. Other recent reports include an “Issue Brief on the Parent Information Resource Centers and Title I Compliance” for the Vermont school districts, parents, Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Superintendents Association, Vermont Principals Association and Vermont NEA; a brief on “Student Mobility and Opportunity to Learn: Money Matters;” and a report on “Addressing the Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents.”
“Bud Meyers and the Jeffords Center are invaluable assets to the State of Vermont,” says Sen. Kevin Mullin, who utilized the Center’s recent “Identifying Opportunities” report and listened to Meyers’ testimony. “Bud has a passion for educational quality and it shows in his work. Through thorough, non-partisan research the Jeffords Center provides legislators like myself with the tools to make effective decisions.”
Benefitting students and faculty
Faculty and graduate students associated with the Jeffords Center have performed evaluations under the Vermont Research Partnership for the Vermont Department of Education and several divisions of the Agency of Human Services. Most recently, evaluations were completed of the AHS reorganization, Incarcerated Women’s Initiative, the DETER Project, Diversity in the Teaching Workforce and Student Mobility Among Vermont School Districts. Such partnerships provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to join cutting-edge interdisciplinary research teams that serve as a training ground in evaluation methods and non-partisan policy research.
The Jeffords Center’s Vermont Legislative Research Service (VLRS) provides non-partisan policy research support to legislators and research opportunities for undergraduate students who work in research teams to produce reports answering questions posed by legislators or create new reports based on current issues under the supervision of the VLRS director, Professor Jack Gierzynski.
The Center also provides financial support (up to $50,000) to faculty members and community organizations, in support of policy research and education programs that advance the center’s mission through the Jeffords Signature Award Program. Five proposals have been funded thus far, representing each of the four signature areas. Funding for four of these projects is continuing (Complexity and Governance, Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security, Complex Systems, Response to Instruction, and Vermont Legislative Research Service).
With a majority of the $3 million to start the Jeffords Center from the U.S. Department of Education Fund having been used for start-up costs and research, Meyers is hoping to land grants, but is also working with the UVM Foundation to identify potential donors interested in helping create independent, non-partisan research to enable policy makers to make informed decisions that will positively affect society.
“The legacy of Jim Jeffords is that he, perhaps more than any other recent national public figure, provided the nation with the example of the power of independent thought,” says Meyers. “Reducing poverty, creating sustainable healthy communities, and maintaining stewardship of the environment defined his contribution to the nation and now form the mission of the Jeffords Center. Anyone who remembers that momentous day on May 24, 2001 when the senator made his Declaration of Independence will have very good reasons to invest in the Jeffords Center.”