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.