Campaign for Vermont analyzes pros, cons of independent school tuition bill

by Ben Kinsley

H.483, approved by the House this year and up for Senate review in January, restricts public tuition payments to independent schools.

H.483 is the Legislature’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Carson v. Makin, prohibiting a ban on public school tuitioning to religious private schools. The bill places new restrictions around admissions policies and added reporting requirements on all Vermont independent schools (secular and religious), restricts out of state options for students in choice districts, and places a moratorium on the approval of new independent schools.


  • An approved independent school that intends to accept public tuition shall be approved by the State Board as eligible to receive public tuition only on the condition that the school complies with the following requirements:
  • Must accept any student who requires special education services.
  • Must provide an attendance report to local supervisory union.
  • Must provide academic progress reports to local education districts and the state.
  • Notification of any enrollment changes must be sent to local school district.
  • Compliance with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act and the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act will be required.
  • The school may not use an admissions process that includes:
  • Mandatory interviews
  • Academic entrance exams
  • Academic history
  • Mandatory campus visits
  • Consideration of ability to pay
  • Additionally, a statement of nondiscrimination must be posted on the school’s website and included on application materials. The head of school must annually attest to their compliance
  • Creates new requirements that publicly-tuitioned students pay the same or lower tuition rate than private pay students, that there is no application fee, academic fee, or any other fees for academic materials, and that the school attests to compliance with all statutory requirements.
  • Under the bill, publicly-tuitioned students would be limited to only schools within a 25-mile radius of the Vermont border. Those schools would be required to adopt and implement policies to comply with antidiscrimination laws and many of the of the other new requirements being placed on in-state schools.
  • To ensure students attending approved independent schools eligible to receive public tuition receive the services they are entitled to, the Agency of Education shall provide a detailed recommendation for a Public Tuition Student Advocate position to the legislature by January, 2024.
  • A moratorium on approval of new independent schools elligibile to receive public tuition would also be put into effect.
Requires special education services be provided to students (already in state rule)

Requires academic progress reporting to the Agency of Education (already in state law)

Requires compliance with anti-discrimination laws (already in state rule)

Requires new academic and enrollment reporting to local education districts.
The new admissions process has the potential to greatly hinder the ability of both a school and a student to make sure that the school can meet the needs of an applicant. This is likely to have unintended consequences for students.

The limitations on tuition will force schools to internalize any academic fees as they can’t recoup those through tuition payments. Additionally, the bill does not consider that the publicly-tuitioned students may be more expensive to educate than private-pay students.

The 25-mile limit on public tuition in arbitrary and not based on any discernable facts. A contiguous state requirement would make more sense here.

The moratorium on new independent schools is a blunt instrument and will prevent new schools from forming to meet the needs of our changing education environment.


While this bill may be well-intentioned, it trips over existing rulemaking in ways that restrict the Agency of Education and the State Board of Education’s ability to react to changing conditions on the ground (the reason both entities opposed the final version of the bill).

It unnecessarily eliminates an application process for tuitioning students at independent schools but does not do the same for public schools. Proponents argue that public schools don’t have an application process, but that is actually untrue for non-resident students. Notably, many Career and Technical Education Centers turn students away regularly because they don’t meet the requirements of the program or don’t have the requisite skills to be successful. Independent schools are often specialized and purpose-driven, like CTE centers. Denying them the ability to interview and talk to students prior to enrollment would be detriment to both the school and the students ability to ensure that the school will meet the needs of the student.

Proponents will also argue that a blind admissions process is necessary to prevent discrimination, however the State Board of Education’s 2200 series rules already specify that any admissions process MUST be anti-discriminatory or schools could lose their approval status to accept public tuitioning dollars (a threat that public schools do not face).

We have already seen these rules at work protecting students. Earlier this year, two schools were denied approval because they refused to comply with this provision.

The bill also limits the tuition that independent schools can charge, meaning they cannot charge more for publicly-tuitioned students than private-pay students (even if the statewide default tuition rate is higher).

This is problematic. No analysis has been done to determine whether publicly-tuitioned students cost more to educate than tuition-paying students. This is a particularly important question because independent schools are required to take special education students (if they are publicly-tuitioned) and those additional student supports cannot be considered during the application process.

The second reason this is problematic is that it likely impacts tuition assistance that independent schools offer to private-pay students. Often times families may barely be able to afford tuition for their student and schools may offer income-based aid in order for the student to attend. The mechanism that this bill uses is taking the average tuition charged by an independent school and using that as the threshold for publicly-tuitioned students. Financial aid may draw down this average tuition rate, meaning that schools may either have to increase their base tuition or offer less financial aid in order maintain their public tuition rates. Either option is problematic for both schools and students who are paying out of pocket.

The third reason that limiting tuition is problematic is that the bill also bans academic fees that parents may have to pay outside of tuition (this provision makes sense). However, because schools cannot charge academic fees, and they cannot raise tuition rates to compensate for these costs, schools would end up eating these fees.

The 25-mile limitation on where students can take their public tuition dollars is arbitrary and is not the result of any meaningful analysis of tuitioning patterns, school locations, or programming needs. Further, this precludes any regional specialty schools that may advantage particular students. For example, a gifted clarinet player who wants to attend a specialized music school in Massachusetts, but it is beyond the 25-mile boundary. Their parents would have to either pay out of pocket or settle for a different school that does not meet the student’s needs in the same way.

Finally, while a moratorium on approving new independent schools to receive public tuition dollars is effective at preventing additional religious schools from applying to receive public tuition dollars (which likely wouldn’t be many anyway), it also prevents new schools from forming to address unmet needs in their communities. We have seen examples of this over the past couple decades, most notably the Sharon Academy which serves roughly 80% public students.

The overall theme of this bill is to try to make independent schools more like public schools, however this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the public tuition system (school choice) is and how it functions. Public schools are required to take all resident students in a non-choice system because there is no other option. In a public choice system, the environment that best suits a students educational needs guides the decision on where they attend school instead of their zip code. We should celebrate this diversity of choice and individualized learning.

In systems such as this, individual schools do not need to be all things to all students. They can specialize and focus on core competencies that make students stronger (like the afore-mentioned arts programs). We have seen what happens in public schools when they are not equipped to meet the needs of certain students, and it’s not pretty.

Current Status:

The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee on April 4, 2023 after passing the House. The bill has not moved since.

Republished from website of Campaign From Vermont, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to the vision of a more prosperous Vermont.

Categories: Education, News Analysis

7 replies »

  1. The bill was NOT “well-intentioned”. It was passed in order to itself to create a bureaucracy-laden environment for independent schools to operate with the hope of making it more difficult for parents to specifically locate parochial schools for their children to attend through the VT school choice option (And I thought “progressives” loved choice!)

    This bill was indeed worked into law as a knee-jerk response to the US Supreme Court’s decision that expressly prohibits state governments from discriminating against parochial/religious schools in school choice options/programs – which the VT legislature was precisely endeavoring to do prior to that decision.

    The Supreme Court’s decision enraged our pathetic, godless, extremist legislators into immediately taking action to attempt to discriminate against this anti-discrimination decision that disallows discriminatory acts within the states, such as Vermont, which vocally oppose discrimination whilst simultaneously discriminating against whatever groups or organizations they themselves choose to discriminate against!

    Freedom OF Religion – NOT Freedom FROM Religion, numbskulls!!!!!!!!!!!

    PARENTS & GUARDIANS: Pull your kids OUT of these propagandized public schools & enroll them in parochial schools!!!!

  2. This bill is what the “Education Equity Alliance” – the Big Four public school lobby groups – have always wanted: a public school monopoly, other than a few independent schools for kids with rich parents.

    • Re: “…schools for kids with rich parents.”

      Don’t you mean the same ‘rich’ people who make their living supporting the public school monopoly? More than 1/3rd of all politicians and teachers with children send their children to private schools.

      As for the others…. ‘Let Them Eat Cake’.

  3. I agree with Kathleen and John. This bill is not ‘well-intentioned’ by any stretch of the imagination.

    It adds frivolous regulations that do nothing to further a child’s educational outcomes and it strengthens the public-school monopoly. It’s called racketeering.

    The hypocrisy is most apparent with the 2nd requirement in the ‘summary’ listed above. Specifically, that approved independent schools must accept any student who requires special education services.

    This requirement demonstrates a complete distortion of Special Education governance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – because public schools don’t ‘accept any student who requires special education services’.

    So, why are independent schools required to do so? In fact, under IDEA governance, it is the disabled student’s Individual Education Plan Team (IEP Team) that makes this determination.

    This legislation is clearly intended to make attending an independent school, a school that competes with public schools, more difficult to navigate. The legislators are complicit in this shakedown – the same way the legislature has been complicit in the monopolized energy and healthcare markets.

    16 V.S.A. § 822(c)(1) states that ‘a school district may … furnish high school education by paying tuition… to an approved independent school or an independent school meeting education quality standards… [and that] the judgement of the board shall be final in regard to the institution the students may attend at public cost.’

    This legislation does an end-run around the § 822 statute by limiting the scope of the institutions the students may attend. In other words, students can attend an independent school only so long as the independent school operates under regulations that are even more stringent than those under which the failing public schools operate.

    It’s all about the money. It always has been about the money. Our legislators, and our court judges, are no better than a typical ‘bag man’ racketeer. Now the only thing left for parents to do is conform… or get out of Dodge.

  4. That’s the Vermont way…. new legislation when there are already the same ones on the books. And being complete hypocrites to boot. My question has always been, if you put all the same restrictions on religious schools that you put on secular schools, that may be acceptable. But if you do that, then what is the difference between private schools and public schools at that point? Basically, so little that it is none. Except you get to choose better, less brainwashed educators maybe. It’s just another brick in the wall of making this a communist/totalitarian country. I think Elon’s right, let’s start looking at Mars seriously. The whack jobs have ruined this world.

  5. One more example of the lobbies drafting our laws, our legislators squabbling over and trying to rein in the worst of it, and failing every time. Well-funded lobbies drive government to serve their interests, resulting in terrible laws and strangling regulations. We cannot have self-government until lobbies are eliminated. They tie us in knots trying to undo their damage and as individuals, we lose to them every time. How do we get out of this?

    • Well, I think we get “out of this” the hard way. Which would not be prudent on my part to state on this forum. However most of middle America is talking about it and preparing for it. My family certainly is. When something is horribly infected and antibiotics no longer work, amputation or excision is the only option. This can be traumatic to the host organism. Somerimes even fatal.

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