The first amendment would remove the admissions process language and replace with language that follows the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) model language for public schools when accepting tuitioned students. However, a key difference is that the new language would apply to both public and independent schools.
The second amendment removed the private right of action against independent schools and clarified that the State Board of Education is the adjudicator of complaints and issues of non-compliance with both this statute and the 2200 rule series.
Amendment number three allowed schools in Canada within 25 miles of the Vermont border to receive tuition dollars. The Committee had some concerns about what Canada’s laws were regarding discrimination and special education.
The bill also makes a modification to the moratorium language to clarify that it is only on new approvals of independent schools to be eligible to receive public tuition. Existing schools may renew their current approval status.
The amendments also made changes to some of the reporting and effective dates.
Returning on Wednesday morning, the committee heard from Sue Ceglowski (Executive Director, VSBA) to speak about their model policy for enrollment of public tuition students in public schools. Ceglowski shared that they develop model policies for their members so that school boards have a place to start. They work with Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust to develop these policies so they have solid legal footing for their members.
The main criterium for admissions is a statement that no student will be denied based on a protected class or because of a need for special education services. However, it does allow the school to determine whether or not a student is currently attending school and is in good academic standing.
Applicants have the opportunity to appeal to the school board if they are denied by the superintendent. Representative Toof asked, based on previous testimony, if it was discriminatory for superintendents to have the discretion to deny applications (which the model policy allows for). Ceglowski did not think so because the district’s primary responsibility is to educate students within their district.
Conlon requested that they walk through the moratorium language again. The main sticking point was still the attestation forms; there was some disagreement about whether or not the Agency of Education (AOE) could turn the form around quickly enough for independent schools to sign before the start of the 2023-24 school year. They settled on requiring attestations starting on August 1st and annually thereafter. The AOE is tasked with developing forms for these attestations by July 1st, 2023.
Paying tuition to schools in Canada was also a sticking point. Representative Buss stated that she knew “that the public schools that [students] drive by to get to Canada may not be a perfect fit for them,” but she didn’t believe that was a “compelling enough argument to allow our tuition dollars to go out of the country.” Most of the other committee members agreed they were not comfortable sending tuition dollars out of the country.
NOTE: Some students are currently choosing to take their public tuition dollars to Canada. The Committee chose not to take testimony from them, school districts sending them, or the schools that were receiving them. It is a dangerous public policy precedent to take away a currently available public benefit without hearing from all stakeholders involved. This is particularly true because there is no phase-in; meaning some students may not be able to continue attending their school next year with little notice.
Representative Williams pointed out that they have a number of a policies that are going into effect this year. She questioned the need for this bill in general because many of its provisions are covered in other areas, such as Act 173 and the 2200 series rules. Conlon explained his belief that codifying these provisions in statute sends a stronger message about the legislature’s commitment to anti-discrimination. Additionally, the language they have proposed prevents the denial of an application because of a “bad fit.”
The Committee returned half an hour later to review the changes from Legislative Counsel that they discussed earlier. After a brief walk through, the Committee voted 7-4-1 in favor of the amendments.
H.483 was scheduled for the House Floor on Thursday. Representative Conlon was supposed to report the bill for the House Education Committee, but he moved that the House postpone action on the bill until Wednesday, March 29th. No debate or discussion of the bill happened.