Government & Politics

Final Reading: Lawmakers consider limiting private schools’ ability to turn away students

Scott Beck
“(Schools) want to know some things about kids before they say yes,” said Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, an educator at St. Johnsbury Academy who testified before the committee Friday. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Let’s say the state is paying tuition for a student who wants to attend a private — aka independent — school. Should that school be able to turn the prospective student away? And if so, what criteria can they consider when doing so?

That is a question that lawmakers in the House Education Committee have been working on since Friday to answer.

The legislation under discussion is the newly-christened H.483, which spent last week as a committee bill percolating in House Ed. The bill would impose new regulations on independent schools that accept public tuition money. 

Among those requirements was language that would have strongly limited private schools’ ability to reject publicly tuitioned kids — language intended to protect prospective students from bias. 

Schools would be barred from using an admissions process “that includes interviews, entrance exams, academic history, required campus visits, or consideration of ability to pay for any costs or fees,” the bill said.

But opponents argued that those restrictions would be an onerous burden on private schools, and that interviews and visits were a crucial way for schools to figure out whether prospective students would be a good fit.

“(Schools) want to know some things about kids before they say yes,” said Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, an educator at St. Johnsbury Academy who testified before the committee Friday. 

The bill passed 7-4 out of House Ed on Friday. But this week, the committee put forth a new amendment to the bill — which Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, the chair, described as mostly “clarifying language.”

That amendment would slightly soften the restrictions on admissions: It would allow independent schools to consider whether prospective students are in “good standing” at their previous school. 

That means schools could consider students’ attendance records, whether they are "making satisfactory progress toward the completion of an approved school or home study program,” and their disciplinary records — specifically, whether they had been suspended 10 or more times in the past year. 

That language is drawn from the Vermont School Boards Association’s model policy for public schools taking in tuitioned students from sending districts. 

Committee members approved that new language by a 7-4 vote Wednesday. It will likely be added to the bill as a floor amendment. 

But it failed to mollify all the opponents of the legislation, including Rep. Terri Lynn Williams, R-Granby, who argued that the legislation would still be a heavy burden on independent schools. 

“We don’t have a guarantee of what’s going to happen to the schools in our area if this bill goes through,” Williams said, adding, “What that is doing is putting our students at a tremendous, tremendous risk.”

— Peter D’Auria


To pay for another expansion of the social safety net, Democrats in the Vermont Senate are proposing axing an anti-poverty benefit they only just created last year.

The tax-writing Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday evening advanced an amended version of S.56, the session’s major child care bill, with a financing mechanism. All five Democrats present voted in favor, while the lone Republican on the committee, Sen. Randy Brock of Franklin County, voted against. (Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, was absent.)

To fund the bulk of the price tag, lawmakers are leaning on a payroll tax. But to bring down the cost of that new levy, the panel is recommending repealing Vermont’s new child tax credit, which gives $1,000 per child 5 and under to families making $125,000 or less.

The latest figures from the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office estimate the parental leave and enhanced child care subsidies contemplated in S.56 would cost roughly $160 million starting in 2025, the first full year of operation. 

A natural growth in revenues to the state's general fund from existing taxes could be applied to $49 million of the cost, but to fund another $32 million of the proposal, the Senate Finance Committee’s amendment would repeal the child tax credit. The balance would be funded through a payroll tax, split between the employer and employee, with workers contributing a quarter of the cost. 

Read more here.

— Lola Duffort

In a vote that largely fell along party lines, the Vermont House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would place new restrictions on gun storage and impose a 72-hour waiting period on gun purchases.

The bill, H.230, would also provide a new route for families and household members to petition courts for gun removal as part of an “extreme risk protection order.”

In three separate votes, the Democratic majority held together, though notably support never exceeded a veto-proof 100 votes. 

From the outset, the debate centered around the constitutionality of the bill, with both sides quoting directly from two precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the 2008 Heller and 2022 Bruen cases, to back their point of view. 

“At this time, it is not clear how the courts binding on Vermont will rule on such firearm regulations, and it may not be clear for a while,” acknowledged Judiciary Committee Chair Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, who spent much of the debate on his feet being questioned. 

Read more here.

— Kristen Fountain


Prosecutor steamed as Bill Stenger released from jail in EB-5 fraud case after prison sentence cut short (VTDigger)

Climate Council’s equity group reflects on accusations of tokenism, barriers to better representation (VTDigger)

Motel owners are withholding security deposits meant to benefit homeless tenants (Seven Days)

The last of Vermont’s abandoned copper mines are finally slated for clean up (Vermont Public)

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Peter D'Auria

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