Rep. Sibilia: District forums on realigning Vermont School Choice policies with U.S. and VT Constitution

Forums on realigning Vermont School Choice policies with U.S. and VT Constitution 

  • Saturday, February 25th 10-11 at the Stratton Town Hall
  • Saturday, February 25th 11:30-12:30 at the Wardsboro Town Hall
  • Saturday, March 4th 9-10 am online due to snowstorm
  • Saturday, March 4th 11-noon online due to snowstorm

Current Choice Policies:

  • Public High School Choice, Act 129 of 2012, allows students to apply to attend any other high school in the state. Schools are allowed to limit the number of students who may transfer from a school, with a cap of 10 percent of resident students or 40, whichever is smaller; schools may set higher limits.
  • Tuition towns: For grades K-6, the school board may determine the public school(s) to which a district pays tuition (16 V.S.A. § 821). For grades 7-12, the parents or guardians may choose a public or an approved independent high school (16 V.S.A. § 822) unless the district has designated (up to three public or approved independent) schools as its public high school (16 V.S.A.§ 827). 

Constitutional Protections:

  • United States of America: First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  • Vermont: Article 3. [Freedom in religion; right and duty of religious worship] That all persons have a natural and unalienable right, to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings, as in their opinion shall be regulated by the word of God; and that no person ought to, or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any minister, contrary to the dictates of conscience, nor can any person be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of religious sentiments, or peculia[r] mode of religious worship; and that no authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by, any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control the rights of conscience, in the free exercise of religious worship. Nevertheless, every sect or denomination of christians ought to observe the sabbath or Lord’s day, and keep up some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God.

Court cases:

  • 1999 Chittenden V DOE school districts could not pay tuition to religious schools without “appropriate restrictions” and “adequate safeguards” to prevent those funds from religious use like religious instruction. No public dollars to religious schools.
  • 2021 A.H. VS French  Vermont could not bar schools from eligibility for tuition payments only because they are religious
  • 2021 Carson v. Makin state govern­ments that allow public dollars to offset private educa­tion costs (like Maine and Vermont) should are required to fund reli­gious instruc­tion

Solutions under consideration:

  1. SBE Rule 2200: Requires statement on nondiscrimination -does not contemplate sincerely held religious beliefs.*
  2. Require school districts to designate several public/private non-religious schools for their students to attend.* 
  3. Eliminate all public tuition to independent and private schools. S.66/H.258

Solutions with an asterisk face or likely face 1A court challenge

Choice bills under consideration:

  • DR 23-0910 – limits out of state, requires nondiscrimination
  • S.66 and H.258 – public school designation
  • H.209 – adds elementary public choice within a SU

Bills for development

  • Ski academy career development
  • Pathways to public

S.66/H.258 “maintains historic community choice while modernizing Vermont’s public education system to align with both Vermont and US Constitutional requirements – Requires districts that do not maintain a high school or elementary school to designate up to three schools to serve as the public school or schools of the district and authorizes the payment of tuition to these designated schools. 

The bill protects the integral role of historic academies in the Vermont public education system – Establishes criteria to determine whether a school is eligible for designation. 

To be eligible for designation a school must be: 

  • a public school in Vermont; 
  • a public school located outside of Vermont in a different state; or 
  • a recognized independent school that meets at least three of the following four criteria:
    • The school serves as a regional CTE center. 
    • The school was established through the granting of a charter by the Vermont General Assembly. 
    • The school qualified as a public school under the definition of “public school” in effect on June 30, 1991. 
    • The school is an employer of teachers within the meaning of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Vermont. 

The bill provides safeguards for students and taxpayers, while ensuring alignment with both Vermont and US Constitutional values, as well as accountability and transparency – Establishes the process for a school district to designate schools eligible for designation and authorizes a process by which a parent or guardian who is dissatisfied with the instruction provided at a designated school to request that the school board pay tuition to another public elementary or public high school selected by the parent or guardian. 

Prohibits a district from paying the tuition of a student to any school or program other than a public school, a school eligible for designation, a tutorial program approved by the State Board, a therapeutic school, or an approved education program. Authorizes an appeal to the State Board for aggrieved persons.  

The bill maintains the long-standing and critical role for therapeutic schools to ensure Vermont taxpayers can continue to support the needs of all students, as required by Vermont and Federal law – Establishes the definition of “Therapeutic school” as an private school that limits enrollment to students who are on an individualized education program (IEP) or plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and who are enrolled pursuant to a written contract between a local education agency (LEA) and the school. Payment for students at therapeutic schools is by contract.

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