Mary Newman (Head of School, Sharon Academy) introduced her school and the students that were with her. Eighth grader Chloe Evans was the first student to testify. Chairman Campion asked what she likes about the school, what she doesn’t like, and what her message was to the Committee. Evans shared that she feels like there is a misconception that independent schools are just for rich kids and that has not been her experience. She was bullied and mistreated at her last public school because minorities were not widely accepted there. She has diagnosed trauma and would often fake sickness so she didn’t have to go to that school. She didn’t know a school couldn’t be so supportive until she was at Sharon Academy. She didn’t know there was a place she could feel at home before her current school.
Campion asked Newman how students could attend the school if they would like. She shared that students in sending towns can just choose to come there, but if a student does not live in a town that has school choice, parents have to pay tuition. There is a scholarship program for middle school students, but not those at the high school level.
Oliver Olsen, a former legislator and Chair of the State Board of Education, was also in the room with a student from the Long Trail School, Vermont’s first international baccalaureate school. The student’s dad shared that he has three students in three different educational environments. Their daughter attends a public school and their third child is at a therapeutic school.
The Committee came back to S.66 later that day get a walk-through of the bill. It is nearly identical to H.258 (see that summary), but the basic concept is that it does away with the town tuitioning program and forces districts that don’t operate a school to designate another public school or academy as the publicly-funded option for their students.
Senator Weeks asked if there was an intent that a school outside of Vermont should be in a state neighboring Vermont. Legislative Counsel declined to answer legislative intent, but the plain reading of the language would allow public schools in any state to receiving Vermont tuition.
Senator Hashim interrupted the walk-through of the bill, asking what the goal of this bill is meant to accomplish. Campion turned to Senator Gulick, the only sponsor in the room, and asked her what the goal of the bill was. She was caught off guard, but shared that she believes the problem the bill is trying to address is that “across our country public schools are under threat.” She went on to describe these threats as “folks getting onto school boards that want to ban books from classrooms, who are not open to a variety of different kinds of people (LGBTQ, people of color, etc.),” saying that she could go on but that it is “converging on a crisis through her lens.” She pointed to S.66 as a way to make a systematic shift “in the way we look at education.”