A terrible bill – and at this moment, inchoate.
Why inchoate? Because as currently amended and being considered by the House, S.91 neither conforms to nor addresses its stated purpose, as introduced last session.
Date: February 8, 2013
Subject: Education; independent schools; public funds; tuition; special education:
This bill proposes to require that in order to receive publicly funded tuition dollars, an independent school shall be approved for special education in at least four categories and shall arrange for the provision of services in any other category, shall maintain a “blind admissions policy” for all publicly funded students, and shall meet other specific requirements.
Sections 1-4 followed, delimiting the conditions under which an independent school could receive, or continue to receive, public monies (in the form of school district tuitions), covering such concerns as bias-free enrollment, blind admission, provision made for four categories of special education, provision for free- or reduced-lunches, and the requirement that faculty and administration hold state licensure.
In the amended version, all four of these sections have been stricken, and following substituted:
Sec. 1. PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS; MORATORIUM; REPEAL
(a) Privatization of public school. Notwithstanding the authority of a school district to cease operating an elementary or secondary school and to begin paying tuition on behalf of its resident students, a school district shall not cease operation of a school with the intention, for the purpose, or with the
result of having the school building or buildings reopen as an approved independent school serving essentially the same population of students. [emphasis added]
Subsections (b) and (c) direct the State Board of Education not to approve such an independent school, under these circumstances exclusively, and asserts that such a school shall be ineligible to receive any publicly funded tuitions. Further, the Secretary of Education is directed to determine the constitutionality either of allowing or prohibiting such an action. The act is to take effect on passage.
The result is that S.91, rather than addressing concerns that independent schools like St. Johnsbury Academy, Sharon Academy, Burr & Burton Academy inter alia conform to the conditions outlined in the original bill in order to be eligible to receive public tuitions, now addresses implicitly the situation at the North Bennington Graded School District.
Last summer, the North Bennington board officially decided to close its public school and lease the building to the independent Village School of North Bennington, which the board was given authority to do by voters and supported fully itself. In so doing, faculty, administration, student body, special services, and physical plant were all preserved intact. The North Bennington board and voters had concluded that independence was the optimal — if not the only — way to sustain a school that has felt the pains of ever-increasing costs, even as enrollment has declined in recent years. Like many other schools throughout the state. The board believed the independent model to be more sustainable because of its ability to attract tuitioning children from out-of-district and to privately fundraise. (http://www.nbgsonline.org/)
Note that NBGS as currently configured satisfies all four of the original stipulations concerning independent schools and public funding. Although none of those stipulations exist in S.91 as amended.
So what exactly is the purpose of S.91 at this point? Besides summarily forbidding an action that any number of other school districts in the state may contemplate, should NBGS’s experiment prove successful?