Independent schools are unable to serve students with learning disabilities unless the supervisory union or the district recommends that particular school.
Head of School Michael Livingston said the move is meant to remove a barrier from prospective students who were deterred by the prospect of filling out a lengthy application without a guarantee of admission.
The pilot project was the only point of contention on the special education bill, which passed the Senate and House on Friday. The program will change the delivery of special education in supervisory unions that volunteer to participate.
Vermont has the highest in the nation, per-capita rate of students who receive special education services because of emotional disturbance.
A Boston consulting firm and its former clients in Vermont say its approach can yield better student achievement for less money. The firm says it has worked with more than 100 school districts in 35 states.
The bill would make one funding change now and set in motion further steps meant to improve the delivery of services and bring savings.
If school district were to be required to contribute more local dollars, it would spur innovation and efficiencies that would lead to better programing for students.
The pressure is on to repeal, delay or tweak a school spending cap that local communities say is too onerous. Lawmakers are under pressure to change the threshold as soon as possible so that schools can prepare budgets for Town Meeting Day.
Small districts tend to feel the effects of special ed requirements more than larger ones.
Every year, as more students are diagnosed with emotional disturbance, more clinicians and behavior interventionists from local mental health agencies are setting up offices in Vermont schools.
The growing number of students identified with emotional disturbance, and the challenging behaviors they display, are causing administrators, educators and mental health professionals to look critically at the support systems that are being created.
Once the Legislature begins addressing special education, a discussion over the state’s skyrocketing prevalence of emotional disturbance in the schools will likely be one the toughest debates to have.
About half of Vermont administrators would prefer to reduce their reliance on paraprofessionals for special education, according to a yet-to-be released UMass study.
The House Education Committee this week heard testimony that special education instruction by paraprofessionals instead of certified teachers is a “discriminatory practice.”