Independent Schools Bill (H.483) - April 13, 2023

On Thursday, Sue Ceglowski (Executive Director, Vermont School Boards Association) spoke to the House Education Committee. She noted that she was testifying on behalf of the Education Equity Alliance, which consists of Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont NEA, Vermont Superintendents Association, and Vermont Principles Association. She claimed “Vermont is at a crossroads” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s new rules for states’ funding private schools. This puts Vermont in a difficult position as it seeks to comply with the Court's ruling, she noted, while “still upholding its own constitutional protections, democratic values and traditions.”

The Education Equity Alliance believes H.483 is a “useful step forward,” although they “recognize” the bill “does not fully address the challenges we face.” They believe the bill provides increased accountability to taxpayers and to the school district that is paying the tuition. She also noted the bill includes “important anti-discrimination measures,” including requiring independent schools to adopt and implement policies and procedures to comply with the Public Accommodations Act and Vermont Fair Employment Practices act.

She argued that there are many independent schools in Vermont that “depend on taxpayer-funded tuition.” The bill does not change that equation, and many of these schools assert that they are already meeting many of the requirements in the bill. However, she required that the Committee schedule time to hear from Neil Odell, President of the Vermont School Boards Association, about Vermont's history of “subsidizing private education.” The implication being that it impacts the state’s Education Fund and local property taxes.

She continued on to compare regulations between public and private schools.

Campion wants to avoid students being denied an opportunity to interview with a particular school. Ceglowski didn’t think this would happen under H.483, but she recommended checking with Legislative Counsel because she was not sure about the impact of student history in traditional interviews.

Gulick commented that parents could help make schools the “right fit” by participating in the school boards or by voting strategically in school board elections, as a member of the community.

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