Lawmakers look at new regulations for Vt. independent schools - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Lawmakers look to impose new regulations on Vt. independent schools

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Could Vermont's independent schools lose some of their independence if a proposal currently under consideration ultimately becomes law?

Senate Bill 91 would affect 14 of Vermont's independent schools, which serve more than 3,300 students.

At issue is access. Independent schools here receive a significant amount of public financing, but operate by rules more similar to private education. The bill in question would require nine of the schools to increase special education offerings and eight schools to open admissions to all public students. The bill would also require all teachers to be licensed.

Proponents of the proposal say it ensures equal access for all public school students.

Opponents say the measure removes the heart of independent education and add that institutions lacking full special ed coverage are small and in areas already covered by other options.

"At the heart of a lot of this conversation is special education. The assumption is that if you're going to take a lot of public money that you ought to be accepting and serving students with disabilities on the same basis in essence a public school does," said Steve Dale of the Vermont School Boards Association.

"Whether a student happens to be attending a public or independent school, if they are both approved to provide special education services, seems to me the money should flow for those students' needs no matter what kind of school it is," said Mill Moore of the Vermont Independent Schools Association.

The four biggest independent schools-- St. Johnsbury Academy, Burr and Burton Academy, the Lyndon Institute and Thetford Academy-- already comply with those elements but oppose the measure.

Due to time limits for passage, the Senate's education committee chairman wants to schedule a vote on the measure next week.

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