Independent Schools Bill - March 16, 2023

The House Education Committee returned on Thursday to review draft 2.1 of their committee bill. The main portion of the bill essentially codifies the rule 2200 series for approved independent schools eligible to receive public tuition. After testimony earlier in the week, the new draft does not specify the frequency of attendance reporting. It instead defers to the Agency of Education (AOE) to create a format and interval for this reporting.

The draft introduced a few new requirements:

  1. Independent schools must notify LEA’s same-day when there is an enrollment change for students (withdrawals, expulsions, etc.).
  2. Require an open enrollment process for students on public tuition. This does not prevent the schools from having capacity limits, but it does mean that there needs to be a nondiscriminatory selection process. It also prevents certain enrollment practices like interviews.
  3. All state-mandated assessments shall be reported to the AOE annually and posted on the school website.
  4. A prohibition on schools charging more for publicly tuition students than private-pay students. And students may not be charged for application fees or any other fees for equivalent services or materials offered by public schools. This provision also requires that the head of school attest that no public funds were used to subsidize private pay students. Chairman Conlon admitted this was not an iron-clad provision but it does signal a policy intention.

NOTE: There is little evidence to suggest this is happening, but we know that private-pay students, particularly at boarding schools, ARE subsidizing public-pay students. St. Johnsbury Academy and others have acknowledged this.

Representative Toof questioned the fees provision because his kids to pay fees in public schools for athletics and some field trips. After discussion, the Committee agreed that this was problematic and limited this prohibition to just application fees, education materials, and lab fees.

Importantly, this draft of the bill maintains the prohibition on tuition payments to schools outside 25 miles of the Vermont border. These schools would also have to comply with many of the requirements and attestations that in-state schools do.

There was some debate in the Committee about how they could hold independent schools accountable for outcomes and how outcomes could be reported. While there was interest, Conlon didn’t feel like there was enough time to work through those issues before they had to vote the bill out at the end of the week.

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