Independent School Oversight - March 3, 2023

The House Education Committee took up their draft bill again on Friday, which would primarily look at strengthening anti-discrimination protections for independent schools. Chairman Conlon led off by saying that he wants to support Vermont’s anti-discrimination policies, like the public Accommodations Act. Notably, the new draft would also pause approval of further independent schools. He also reiterated that the purpose of the public tuitioning program, which is to fulfill our obligation to Vermont students where a public school does not exist or it is unpractical to operate one.

Legislative Counsel did a walk through of the bill, which would require Approved Independent Schools (those eligible to receive tuition) to:

  • Accept students on an IEP (already in current law).
  • Be accredited by NEASC or AISNE.
  • Report three or more unexcused absences to the LEA responsible for that student.
  • Report academic progress to LEA in a format and cadence determined by AOE.
  • Adopt policies and procedures to comply with the Public Accommodations Act and the Fair Employment Practices Act.
  • Annually attest to all statutory requirements for schools eligible for tuition are being met.
  • Attest that a non-discrimination policy is posted on their website and in enrollment applications that is consistent with the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

 

The transition to these new rules is also spelled out in the bill. Schools that will be required to go through accreditation to maintain their eligibility status will need to notify the State Board of Education by the end of 2023 and must obtain such accreditation by July 2029. For an out of state school, any student currently enrolled would be grandfathered in.

There were a series of “confirming amendments” that don’t change the ability of a district to tuition out students or for families to choose where to go. They simply replace “Approved Independent School” with “Approved Independent School Eligible to Receive Tuition” which conforms to the new standards of the State Board of Education in the 2200 rules series.

The bill would also prohibit tuition being paid to schools more than 25 miles from Vermont borders. There is still an open question around what additional requirements might be applied to these schools. The language, as draft, would require those schools to comply with anti-discrimination laws applicable for both students and staff in that state. This provision would eliminate tuitioning to schools in Canada.

Finally, the bill address “extraordinary special education reimbursement” which relates to Act 173. This allows independent schools to be reimbursed for students with high costs, which they are now required to accept.


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