Every year hundreds of bills are introduced. They are then referred to their respective committees where they may or may not be discussed. Here is a list of Education Bills that could affect school choice.
Bills that would reduce options and we are following closely: (At this time these bills are under committee discussion. We are not taking any action until it is apparent these bills will be moved forward, at which time we will alert you so we can take action as a group.)
See our previous post for a detailed review of these two bills.
Bills that would expand choice and we are keeping an eye on:(Links to PDF of each bill's text). If you feel strongly about any of these bills, let your reps or senators know that you would like to see them moved forward for discussion.
VPR recently aired this brief story that takes a look at H.170 and S.44. The article leaves out important factual information, which we have added in bold to the story transcript below:
(Host) The debate over school choice in public education is a hot topic in many states. But in much of Vermont, school choice is already a reality.
Ninety Vermont towns have no middle or high school of their own. So students in those communities get tuition vouchers and can choose which public or independent school they want to attend.
But some lawmakers say the system gives private schools an unfair advantage - and they're trying to change that, as VPR's Susan Keese reports.
(Host) The kindergarten-through-12th grade public school in Royalton has been struggling with rising costs and shrinking student numbers - a common problem in Vermont. Surrounding towns, such as Tunbridge and Sharon have no high schools. They provide tuition vouchers for students to use at whatever secondary school they choose to attend. Royalton School Board Chair Tom Honigford says his public school would love to have those students and their tuition money. But the students tend to choose the nearby Sharon Academy and other private schools instead. FACT: The communities of Sharon and Tunbridge tuition 163 students. Of those 163 children, slightly over half choose public schools. Those public schools include South Royalton (Royalton), Woodstock Union, Hartford, and Hanover, schools that are significantly more distant than South Royalton or The Sharon Academy and Thetford Academy. Honigford assumes if The Sharon Academy disappeared, South Royalton would receive the students from Tunbridge and Sharon who don’t currently attend South Royalton. This may not be a fair assumption. Because parents in Tunbridge and Sharon have school choice, they have shown a preference for schools other than South Royalton H.S.
(Honigford) "As we needed to attract more students to the building, we became aware that some students have the perception that independent schools are better schools. And because of the perception they choose to go there." FACT: Honigford is more focused on money than on the needs of students in nearby school choice towns. He said this explicitly last week in the Senate Education Committee on February 9th, "We need those dollars in the public schools."
(Keese) Honigford admits the independent schools and academies often have higher test scores. But he says it's not fair to compare private and public schools.
(Honigford) "Independent schools can pick and choose who they want as students. They tend to not have very many, if any, special ed students... And as you get into it more, you realize there are a lot of other things going on." FACT: Independent schools accepting publicly tuitioned students are required to comply with federal statues that implement 504 plans ( The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights anti-discrimination act prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires that all programs and activities be accessible to everyone.) The ability to bill home districts to serve students with IEPs depends upon a school’s certification in each of the 14 special education categories. Some independent schools are certified in some or all categories, and some are not able to serve children with IEPs. However, many independent schools provide special ed even though they are not government-certified for billing purposes. Fully one-third of independent schools serve only seriously disabled children on IEPs.
(Keese) A pair of bills in the Legislature would "level the playing field," as one lawmaker puts it.
Windsor Senator Dick McCormack is a sponsor. FACT: The amount of each tuition voucher that can follow a child to an independent school is limited to the state average tuition rate of union schools. The average secondary student in Vermont costs $16,000 to educate in a public school. The voucher size is $12,000. This $4000 difference is not accidental - state rules have allowed it to go on this way for years. Independent schools now are trying to correct the problem. Current funding is not a level playing field, particularly for those independent schools who are committed to charging only the state average.
(McCormack) "The law would be that,.... .... in order to receive public funding, taxpayer dollars, a school would have to abide by all the various rules and requirements that are imposed on our local public schools." FACT: While the bill would impose these new requirements, it also reaffirms that the unequal tuition arrangement that has been in place for years should continue as is. In other words, the bill would tell independent schools to do more, with less money. Independent schools don't see this as "leveling the playing field."
(Keese) Those rules include teacher licensing requirements, the federal No Child Left Behind Law, and state provisions that impose penalties on public schools for spending more per student than the state average.
The House bill would also forbid state tuition money to be spent on schools outside the state.Sponsors say that amounts to five or six million dollars annually. FACT: H.170 would still allow students to be tuitioned to those out-of-state schools who are part of interstate compacts and tuitioning arrangements: Granville, NY, Salem, NY, Orford, NH and Hanover, NH. It would also allow special education students to be placed out-of-state. It is not entirely clear how much of the current out-of-state tuition dollars are spent at schools that would be excepted from the bill. We hope to have clarification from the Department of Education soon.
Mark Oettinger is general counsel for the Vermont Department of Education. He says some independent schools do very well with students with disabilities. Others don't even admit those students. FACT: Oettinger testified before the Senate Education committee that he is unaware of any SPED based complaints brought against an independent school during his five years with the DOE.
(Oettinger) "Many of our independent schools are approved for all 14 disability categories, some are approved for none. There is no obligation under current Vermont law that independent schools be approved for all categories." FACT: Vermont independent schools range in size from 4 students to 900 students. “Approved Independent Schools” serve general student populations, special needs populations, and include the accelerated academic VAST program at Vermont Technical College, Vermont’s ski academies, and religious schools.
(Keese) Oettinger thinks the proposed bills would defeat the advantages of alternative schools.
(Oettinger) "They have certain degrees of flexibility. They can specialize more. They're subject to a fairly stringent regulation from the Department of Education, but the nature of that regulation is essentially different..." FACT: H.170 would disallow NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation for Independent Schools. NEASC currently certifies over 600 independent and 2000 public education institutions in New England. The Department of Education currently accepts the NEASC accreditation process and according to recent testimony, does not support doing away with NEASC approval. Interestingly, H.169 which is also sponsored by Representative Anne Mook, would require Vermont Technical Centers to undergo NEASC reviews and encourages them to seek enrollments from outside of Vermont.
(Keese) Senator Dick McCormack says letting private schools "cherry-pick" the easiest and least expensive students to educate, while leaving the rest to public schools, could lead to a downward spiral for public education. FACT: Though the "cherry-pick argument" is regularly refuted by independent schools, anti-independent school people cling to this false argument. Vermont’s town academies and tuitioning statutes have been around for 140 years, our town academies pre-date our public secondary schools. Independent schools struggle with Vermont’s declining student numbers, just as public schools do (in fact more so, because independents have no guaranteed enrollment) and there is no evidence of “cherry picking.” New independent schools serving general education populations are extremely rare. Over the past 140 years the system has achieved a balance that serves students well. According to the Department of Education, Vermont’s public school students are among the highest performing in the nation.
For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.
PLEASE NOTE THE CLARIFICATION REGARDING SPECIAL EDUCATION, BELOW IN RED - ADDED 2/25:This Vermont legislative update is for those concerned about access to Independent Schools. A calculated effort is underway with the introduction of H.170 (Introduced by Rep. Anne Mook of Bennington) and S.44 (Introduced by Senators McCormack, Giard and MacDonald) to limit independent school access for tuitioned students
No consideration has been given to the ability of parents to choose the best educational environment for their child, or that independent schools fill educational niches because they are not burdened by excessive regulation, or that to be a successful independent school you surely must meet the academic, social and emotional needs of your students or families will no longer choose your school.
H.170 and S.44 are currently in their respective education committees (H=House, S=Senate). They were introduced to the committees in the past two weeks, and the committees are taking testimony from experts and interested persons.It would be extremely helpful if the committees could hear or receive written testimony from parents who have children with special needs who have benefited from their independent school experiences. As of today, the committees have not heard from a single parent in support of how an Independent School has met their child’s special needs. Basically, if School Choice Vermont parents don’t come forward the committees will not hear positive testimony from parents on this issue.
Contact me ASAP firstname.lastname@example.org
if you are willing to do this - I am just taking names right now so we are ready to move when the time comes. This would not be in a large room like last year, it would be in a small committee room, before a committee of 5 or 11, plus usually 5-8 observers, during business hours. If you are interested in testifying but cannot take time from work, I am looking into submission of written testimony.
H.170 and S.44 are very similar. They would require Approved Independent Schools to comply with school quality, admissions, accounting, special education and other federal and state mandates imposed on public schools, as a prerequisite to accepting tuitioned students. H.170 proposes to limit tuition payments to any public or independent schools located outside of Vermont that are not part of the NH or NY interstate compact, or a placement for a child with special needs.
Unless you live in a community that has designated an Independent School as your district’s public school, as a tuitioning parent you have full choice over whether or not an independent school is the right educational environment for your child.
Independent schools are private institutions managed by Boards of Trustees. Vermont education law does have minimum standards and requirements for becoming a “Recognized” (not able to accept tuitioned students) or “Approved” (able to accept tuitioned students) Independent School. H.170 essentially attempts to impose every state and federal requirement of public schools, onto Approved Independent Schools.
H.170 would require any independent school accepting publicly funded students to offer all levels of special education services to their students. While some independent schools have chosen to pursue special education certification, others have chosen partial certification, or to not serve special needs populations at the IEP level
at all ----CLARIFICATION: Independent Schools receiving public money are required to comply with federal laws which pro. In addition there are fourteen levels of Special Education certification that can be achieved to additionally serve students on IEPs
----- Consider one of the reasons Approved Independent Schools are successful at serving their students: they are allowed to specialize rather than be all things to all students, in fact about one-third of Approved Independent Schools only serve special needs populations. Here is a pdf file of all VT Approved independents.
H.170 would require guaranteed admission to every student who is a resident of the town in which the school is located.
H.170 would require every enrolled student participate in standardized testing, regardless of that student’s tuition source. (Currently only tuitioned students are required to take standardized tests in independent schools).
H.170 would no longer allow Independent Schools to receive Approved status from the state by passing the highly respected and extremely stringent certification requirements of outside groups such as NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges).What Happens Next to the Bills?
- A bill must be reported out of committee by early March in order for it to continue on the path to becoming law during the current legislative session. If the committee decides to move the bill, they will draft a committee report and put it on the notice calendar. The next day, one of the members of the committee will “report” the bill to the general assembly, and members may ask questions, debate the merits and offer amendments.
- At the end of the debate, the members will vote on whether the bill shall be read a second time. If they vote affirmative, the bill is put on the notice calendar for third reading the next day.
- Before third reading the members may ask questions of the reporter, offer amendments and debate the merits although most bills are thoroughly debated before second reading and there is no discussion at this point.
- If the bill is passed to third reading it is sent to the other house where the process is repeated.
- If the other house passes a different version, a committee of conference is appointed to work out the differences.
- If both houses agree to the committee of conference proposal, the bill is sent to the governor.
Representative Mook has also introduced a bill that would redefine Approved Independent Schools. It is essentially the same bill at S-44, but with the addition of restricting ANY tuition payments to schools not located in Vermont. I'll update this post when I have a handle on that portion of the bill. In the meantime, here's a link to the bill
**REMINDER - Education Forum on Monday the 7th at 6pm in Rutland. Details here.
There are currently two bills in the legislature that are related to school choice and require your attention.
We are not suggesting taking action on these bills until we get a handle on how they are progressing (or not) in their respective committees. Please stay tuned - when it is time to take action we will email you with an “ACTION ALERT.” In the meantime, familiarize yourself with these bills (below) and let other parents know by sending them to this page. BILL #1 S.44 (Here's a link to the PDF of the bill)
S.44 was introduced by Senators McCormack, Giard, and MacDonald. It would require all Approved Independent Schools to “comply with requirements relating to school quality, the provision of special education, and other issues imposed on public schools.” And, “any other federal requirement relating to public schools.” In addition any Approved Independent School accepting even a single publicly funded student would be required to submit their entire student body to standardized testing.
Independent Schools attract students based on their ability to provide a unique and effective educational environment appropriate to their target population - whether they serve 10 students or 600 students. This bill would require all Approved Independent Schools to comply with federal requirements for public schools, including No Child Left Behind (NCLB). By forcing Approved Independent Schools to be all things to all students, S.44 would destroy the specialization that enables them to be effective, and would further homogenize the educational choices available to our children.
Over one-third of 96 Approved Independent Schools specialize in serving emotional, behavioral, physical and learning special needs populations, some serve only single gender populations. The other two-thirds provide alternative and/or academically rigorous learning environments, including the Town Academies, sectarian schools, Waldorf schools, and ski academies. These schools have a track record of serving their students’ individual needs while meeting high standards for Independent School approval by the state of Vermont or other state recognized accreditation agencies. S.44 would disallow approval by other accrediting agencies already recognized by the state, in lieu of state approval. BILL #2 H.133 (Here's a link to the PDF of the bill)
H.133 was introduced by Representatives Scheuermann, Donaghy, Donahue, Eckhardt, Komline, Lewis, Myers, and Strong. It is an education overhaul bill expanding school choice for all students K-12, and overhauling the current statewide funding system while consolidating VT into 15 school districts.
Consolidation bills are going to come up every year, as will proposals for changes to education funding. Expansion of school choice to all students is noteworthy in this bill, but whether or not the legislature has the stomach to entertain top-down consolidation again is unlikely without strong public support.
- It reduces the current 62 Supervisory Union structure into 15 Educational Districts (ED).
- It replaces local School Boards with School Advisory Councils to oversee educational quality and academic policy.
- The new ED would oversee former Supervisory Union responsibilities including delivery, monitoring and reporting of special education services, transportation, purchasing, hiring of staff, finances and student data.
- All students would have school choice K-12, including choice of approved independent schools, and schools outside of their district.
- School differences would be respected but all schools would be asked to work together to coordinate curriculum and and scheduling that will facilitate the flow of students.
- It would eliminate the statewide education property tax. Each ED would develop an ED-wide budget and would assess a property tax within the ED to fund the budget. Funds raised through the ED-wide property tax would remain within the ED. Rolling appraisals would replace the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) that is currently used.