Ethan Allen Institute Press Release
At the close of the 2013 session, the legislature established a summer study committee to, “research and consider both the opportunities and challenges created by closing a public school with the intention or result of reopening it as an approved independent school….” This was in the wake of North Bennington deciding to do exactly that for the fall of 2013. The Mountain School at Winhall took the same action fifteen years ago, and now other towns are exploring the idea.
The summer study committee contained several members from Vermont’s vibrant and diverse independent school community, and took testimony from others. These educators shared some passionate stories and compelling data about the opportunities independent schools offer students, families and local communities. All of them were disregarded entirely by the Secretary of Education, Armando Vilaseca, who ended up writing the report to the legislature himself without including or referencing any of the input provided proponents of the independent school model.
Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education said in all his legislative experience (he served as Speaker of the Vermont House) he had “never seen anything like this.” (See Video)
Seth Bongartz, chairman of the board at Burr & Burton Academy was “appalled” by Vilaseca’s decision and charged that the secretary’s actions made the whole report “less than legitimate.” (See Video)
The resulting report (due for publication on or before December 15, but EAI received an early copy) is a one-sided assault on Vermont’s Independent school system. If the recommendations in this report are acted upon by the legislature, the damage to Vermont’s independent schools would be catastrophic and irreparable.
But, of course, that’s the point.
Vilaseca’s recommendations include:
1. Forbid privatization of a public school. This will require state legislation.
2. Require independent schools that accept publicly funded tuition students to offer free and reduced lunch. This would require legislation.
3. Recommend repealing statutory provisions that allow the electorate to approve payments of higher tuition rates to approved independent schools by amending Title 16 § 823(b) and 824(c).
4. Recommend amending Title 16 § 828 so that public tuition paid to privatized schools that have publicly funded enrolements of 25 percent or more is paid only to those privatized schools that:
a. provide all services public schools are required to provide.
b. meet all federal guidelines public schools are required to meet. [Vilaseca provides three pages, 8-11, of such regulations, including compliance with FERPA, 1973 legislation barring discrimination based on disability, Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.]
c. have an action plan for a “safe” environment and school crisis planning, and;
d. participate in USDOE Adequate Yearly Progress determinations.
5. Amend State Board Rule to delineate between independent schools that serve the general population vs. schools designated to serve a specific population (ie. special education disability category or other specialty such as training for athletic competition.)
6. Amend State Board Rule to require that independent schools which are accepting publicly funded students for general education are approved for all special education disability categories, even if they do not currently have enrolled students in each category.