Former education secretary and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe has abandoned a key attack line about Republican Gov. Phil Scott's education policy.
The Friday announcement, via emailed press release, came after Seven Daysand VTDigger.org published pieces critical of her original assertion, and the Scott administration categorically denied it.
For the first 10 days of her campaign, Holcombe had accused the Scott administration of promoting a statewide school-choice policy that would strip public schools of millions in state funding. In her new press release, she instead accused Scott of promoting a "vision" of a statewide voucher system.
“If Governor Scott’s team wants to say that a statewide voucher program was their ‘vision’ and not their policy, I will take them at their word and amend my critique,” Holcombe wrote. “I strongly disagree with that ‘vision,’ and I’ll continue to say so, loudly and unapologetically.”
Holcombe had based her original voucher attack on a January Agency of Education document, Designing Our Future, which outlined the consequences of a radically simplified public education system with only one school district for the entire state. The concept included statewide school choice encompassing public schools, technical training centers and independent, non-religious private schools.
However, the document's introduction describes it as a "visioning exercise" using a single school district as "the most extreme simplification possible." Spokespeople for the Agency of Education and the Scott administration categorically denied that the document was a policy proposal.
In her Friday statement, Holcombe cited a new piece of evidence: a written response by then-candidate Scott to a July 2016 questionnaire from the advocacy organization Campaign for Vermont. “School choice should be afforded to every parent and student in every school in every corner of Vermont,” Scott wrote. “I will vigorously support legislation that would ... make school choice an option for all Vermont families.”
That is another data point in Holcombe's favor. But in his two and a half years as governor, Scott has never publicly followed through on that promise. It may be a statement of intent — or a vision — but so far that's all it is.
Holcombe's revised attack is not as misleading as her first draft. But given Scott's lack of open advocacy for universal vouchers, it may not be very convincing to voters. Other Democratic candidates have tried to paint Scott as a stealth conservative. But he's been governor for two and a half years, and if he's been hiding his true colors, he's been doing a spectacular job of it.
Scott's administration did not immediately reply to a request for comment.