Independent Schools Committee Fails To Reach Agreement On Special Education Framework

Dec 20, 2017

A legislative committee was not able to come up with a framework under which all approved independent schools would admit students with disabilities.

The Approved Independent Schools Study Committee was formed at the end of the last legislative session after disability rights advocates and representatives from the public schools failed to reach an agreement with Vermont's private schools.

Some private schools accept public money under Vermont's limited school choice system, but those schools are not required to offer the full range of special education services that the public schools must provide under the federal special education law.

The Approved Independent Schools Study Committee met over the past few months to make recommendations on how private schools should be required to deliver special education services, and how much financial information those schools should have to turn over to the state.

Committee chairman Sen. Philip Baruth said that while there were some agreements reached, there are still some very big issues to address when lawmakers return to Montpelier.

"We got to the point where people were shouting distance from each other," said Baruth. "I think I have a sense where the center point is and I'll be looking to create a draft built around that."
The committee was supposed to develop language that would be given to the Legislature at the start of the 2018 session.

The committee issued its final report this month.

But Baruth said there was not enough agreement between the two sides to fulfill that mission.

"Nothing in the appendix of that report was agreed to by all parties," Baruth said. "To me, that was the last chance for everybody to agree amongst themselves. Now we'll do it the other way with the Legislature making a series of decisions, and put that onto legislative language, with testimony and help and advice and good wishes, hopefully from all of those parties."
Baruth said the independent schools did make a very big move by agreeing that students would be admitted to any school that the family, the home district and the student thinks is the best fit.

But there was no agreement on how public special education money would be used by an independent school once  a student with a disability is admitted.

And the committee was unable to reach agreement on proposed legislative language concerning the scope and nature of financial information that should be required to be reported by approved independent schools.