by Retta Dunlap
The Vermont Independent Schools Association (VISA) recently held their annual conference at the Three Stallion Inn in Randolph,
Vermont. VISA’s history in Vermont spans nearly 30 years of service, but Mill Moore, VISA’s new executive director, is breathing new life into the organization’s activities. With over 11% of Vermont’s school age population enrolled in independent schools (more commonly known as private schools), it makes sense for them to work together.
Vermont’s independent schools are very diverse in nature, with offerings that cover the spectrum from regular education to special education to gifted and specialized education. This makes this network of independent schools a valuable resource to Vermont’s educational landscape as they provide things the public system cannot or will not provide. For example, of the 128 independent schools, 31 are special education schools for children who are best served outside of a public school.
Moore has taken VISA’s activities in two directions: advocacy and support.
Through VISA’s independent point of view, the Legislature is now more knowledgeable about what independent schools offer and the fact that some students cannot get these services elsewhere. VISA also works among its members to encourage collaboration and provide leadership in maintaining high standards for educational programs, and in helping schools to fulfill their missions.
The conference offered information to attendees about concerns of importance to them all:
- VISA is concerned about protecting school choice. With nearly 90 of Vermont’s towns having access to school choice, discussions about expanding choice or limiting it should include the independent school community.
- So many, especially those in state government, do not understand the breadth and depth of the state’s independent school community and why they must be different from the public schools. This past winter the legislature explored the idea of changing the regulations on independent schools without knowing exactly what it is that they do.
- Independent schools are often overlooked or excluded in many discussions that could affect how they interact with students. The concern is especially acute when discussions of school choice arise or imposing more regulations.
- The “average allowable tuition” amount is set each year, by the Department of Education, which dictates what local school districts can pay in tuition payments. Unfortunately, this amount is not based on the real costs of education. It is merely an arbitrary number set by local school boards and then averaged together. If a tuition payment is to pay for the real costs of education, shouldn’t it be based on the real cost of education?
- Act 153, a bill passed in 2010 to encourage school district consolidation, purposely does not protect school choice towns. While it may allow the towns to discuss school choice, it provides no way for a school choice town to join a larger school district without losing the choice they currently have. This next legislative session will see a conversation if not legislation to either force these towns to join or figure out a way to consolidate with school choice.
These are just some of the things that all independent schools in Vermont need to be informed about regarding not only their independence but also to their very existence.
So, if you have an independent school near you or know someone who sends their kids to an independent school or you send your kids to an independent school, let them know about VISA and encourage them to join. VISA’s website is: http://www.vtindependentschools.org