VISA update: Tuition ban proposal expected, would face fierce legal and political opposition

This is the Jan. 22, 2022, update from the Vermont Independent Schools Association.

Senate Ed Chair Anticipates Tuition Ban Proposal

Though an independent school tuition ban proposal would face serious opposition in the Senate Education Committee and from Senate leaders, Senate Education Committee chair Brian Campion (D-Bennington) also said this week he anticipates a proposal will be presented to his committee in the coming week by representatives of the public education stakeholder groups. The tuition ban idea was triggered by opposition to public funds going to religious schools.

A tuition ban cannot succeed without also including an eminent domain state expropriation of several independent schools which fulfill a public school role in their regions, likely including some or all of the so-called “town academies.” An attempted government taking of these organizations would be a very extraordinary measure. In addition to having to overcome political opposition, the state would have to establish a legitimate “public purpose” for the takeovers and would have to provide fair compensation — both of which set an extremely high bar and which if overcome would very likely be strongly challenged in the courts.

Lobbyists representing VISA and some individual independent schools are in contact with key legislators in the House and Senate. VISA is hosting contingency planning work among the lobbyists.

2200 Series Rulemaking Inches Closer to Conclusion

Discussions among interested members of the Act 173 Advisory Group addressing rulemaking concerns raised in the public comments filed with the Ed Board last November have concluded with a consensus on some wording clarifications but no substantive alterations to the rules proposals the Group sent to the Ed Board several months ago.

The principal questions focused on the Act 173 requirement that any independent school accepting public funds must enroll special education students. The specifics were to make clear LEAs may not interfere in students’ choices of independent schools and that while independent schools may not legally discriminate against any protected classes those schools may still require prospective students to meet their other enrollment standards.

As noted in last week’s VISA Update, the special education student enrollment requirement for inde-pendent schools may be postponed by one year to July 1, 2024. The House Education Committee is studying this as part of a proposal to extend the public school deadlines for the Act 173 reforms.

Bill to Raise School Attendance Age Introduced

A bill to raise the mandatory school attendance age to age 18 was introduced to the Senate Education Committee this week to an initial favorable reception. Bill sponsor Senator Alice Nitka (D-Windsor) said she believes “both positive personal and workforce development will result if young people stay in school until age 18.” The bill—S.249—proposes annual increases by half-year increments until reaching age 18.

Legislators Consider Workplace Anti-Discrimination Bills

The House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee continued work on two bills regarding discrimination in housing, education, public accommodation, and employment. H.320 would prohibit discrimination settlement agreements between employer and employee from including prohibitions on future employment, which advocates say unfairly penalize victims of workplace harassment. However, some employment attorneys have raised concerns that this could take away what little leverage employees have in settlement negotiations.

H.329 would amend the prohibitions against discrimination by removing the “severe and pervasive” standard for harassment based on any protected class, establish a uniform six-year statute of limitations, allow an employee to file a claim without having previously pursued an internal grievance process, and remove the requirement that an employee demonstrate that a comparable employee was treated differ-ently to prove that discrimination occurred.

The Committee will review these proposals and decide if additional laws are needed to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace while considering the concerns of employers and the protections afforded in current law.

Non-Profit Employer UI Program Changes Considered

The House Commerce Committee heard testimony on H.29, which would require small nonprofit employers with fewer than four employees that do not participate in the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system to notify prospective employees that they will be ineligible for UI benefits.

This bill attempts to correct a problem some employees faced during the pandemic when they filed for UI benefits, not realizing that their employer’s small size made them ineligible. An amendment to the bill would also require employers that elect to reimburse the UI Trust Fund rather than make regular pay-ments to provide the Vermont Department of Labor with a security deposit.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jonathan Leo Connor