House committee advances bill that would strip interview process from independent schools

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PUBLIC MONEY FOR INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS: The State of Vermont wants to raise the bar in various categories when it comes to independent schools obtaining public tuition money.

On Friday the House Committee on Education passed a bill by a 7-4-1 vote that could make it more challenging for independent schools to receive public support.

Among a handful of new benchmarks that must be met for receiving public money includes that independent schools must forego any interview process and must never ask about a family’s ability to pay.

The bill under consideration is H.483, “An act relating to the accountability and oversight of approved independent schools that are eligible to receive public tuition.”

Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, chair of the House Education Committee, talked about the bill on Friday morning, calling it taxpayer accountability.

“I frame it as taxpayer accountability. We spend $100 million on sending people to approved independent schools, and this goes some distance towards taxpayer accountability,” Conlon said. He added, “I don’t look at it as a ‘let’s go after one group of schools or another.”

A new list of requirements

The main intention behind the bill is to implement a handful of standards that must be met for independent schools to receive public tuition money. The first one listed is that independent schools must take on children with specific special needs. Special needs children often prove challenging for any school budget, and independent school budgets are often smaller in scale than their public counterparts.

The second part mentions “accreditation by specific school accreditation organizations,” meaning any other operational standards set by accreditation organizations must also be met.

The third part deals with requiring more sharing of data with the public school system, including “agreeing to report attendance, enrollment changes, State-mandated assessment results, and student performance data to a tuitioned student’s local education agency.”

No interviews or questions about finances

Some of the lawmakers who voted no on the bill cited a specific section as a dealbreaker for their support. The language states that “the school shall not use an admissions process for publicly tuitioned students that includes interviews, entrance exams, academic history, required campus visits, or consideration of ability to pay for any costs or fees.”

“I’ve said it a few times: I don’t think we’ve been given ample time to vet this section,” Rep. Chris Taylor, R-Milton, said just before the vote.

No enforcement mechanisms?

Some lawmakers were unconvinced that this bill goes far enough in regard to enforcement mechanisms.

Rep. Mary-Katherine Stone, D/P-Burlington, suggested that discrimination could be happening at independent schools and the state may not even know about it.

“With no mechanism for enforcement as heard by [Education] Secretary Dan French … we are hoping that these schools are acting in good faith and basing these decisions on assumptions that they are being antidiscriminatory,” Stone said.

Beth St. James, of the Office of Legislative Counsel, responded that this isn’t necessarily true.

“There is currently authority for the State Board to evoke, suspend or impose conditions on the approval of an approved independent school,” she said while reading from the current statute.

Better results with less money

Students from independent schools routinely score highly on standardized tests than their peers from public institutions, often at a lower cost per student — much less than in Vermont’s public schools.

“Research has consistently shown that private school students tend to perform better in standardized tests,” reports U.S. News & World Report. “The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is often referred to as ‘the nation’s report card,’ assesses both public and private school students in subjects such as math, reading, science and writing. The most recent NAEP data shows what other research has found: Private school students score better in almost all subjects.”

Although such data is not readily available in Vermont, in other states such as Oklahoma, a new report indicates that their independent schools are on average operating by about 30% below the costs per student when compared to public schools.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

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3 thoughts on “House committee advances bill that would strip interview process from independent schools

  1. I hope none of the yea voters are supported by NEA donations. That would be a direct conflict of interest trying to put the independent schools out of business. I believe it’s even a criminal offense.

  2. The next proposed law from the freaks in Montpelier pertaining to beating up on independent schools:

    A monthly report on the number of “independent” students vs. the “public” students who go to the
    school bathrooms each day and how much time each one spends there.

    It occurs to me that we all might be a lot better off if we gave our legislators a three-year vacation. That would provide us with the opportunity to determine whether or not we’d be a lot better off and a lot more content without their agonizing presence. It might even improve the health of all Vermonters. Fewer heart attacks and possibly even less suicides.
    Well, I can dream, can’t I?

  3. Oh LORD…so lets have more laws “…make it more challenging for independent schools to receive public support.” Isn’t the solution to insure that the per pupil monies collected and designated as “educational” not become public money? It becomes an escrow fund upon which families draw to buy schooling services for their kids education. The communities’ commitment to an educated citizenry need not require the running of elaborate schooling businesses not directly answerable to it’s customers. Don’t invest public monies in organizations…let families buy services, teachers, curriculum that they want. Teachers have skill….families have educational needs. Unleash them to contract directly.

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