Equality Requirement Must Follow Tax Money

The House Education Committee has been wrestling with the problem of making sure that all Vermont students whose education is paid for with our tax dollars are treated the same – no favoritism, no special privileges, equal access for all.

Within the public school system, all children are enrolled if they live in the town.  There are no other admissions criteria for public schools. If children live here in Woodstock, they are automatically accepted into Woodstock Elementary School.

When students from one town request to attend a public school in another town, the receiving school will take them as long as there is capacity in the receiving public school.

What happens when our public funds are spent to send students to private or independent schools? Do the same guidelines apply, or do the private schools get to pick and choose, rejecting students they don’t want?

Private schools have many reasons for rejecting or accepting kids, but in testimony we heard that schools ”want to know some things about kids before they say ‘yes.’ “ They may wish, for example, to accept children of alumni ahead of other applicants. They may, consciously or unconsciously, favor applicants with attributes that match their traditional student body — or, to foster diversity, favor those who don’t.

They may choose students they think are college bound over those whose future, they think, are in the trades. Public schools can’t do this. As a matter of policy, if our tax money is paying the bill, our public schools are open to all of our children.

The House Education Committee is sponsoring a bill, H. 483, that would ensure equal opportunity for children from towns that pay to send students to private schools. The policy would apply to any student paid for out of the public purse to attend a private school, and it would ensure that these children are enrolled without any discriminatory measures including academic history or potential. It would remove entrance exams, remove mandatory campus visits and ensure that a student does not have to demonstrate financial means of paying for additional fees.  Essentially, the private school would no longer determine if a student is a good fit.

H 483 ensures that if a private school accepts any tuitioned students paid for by public dollars, it will accept them all, up to the limits of its capacity.

The Vermont Constitution requires us to provide education and each legislator takes an oath to “do equal right and justice to all persons.” There is no reason one town can’t, by agreement, rely on a school in another town to provide education, but that equality requirement must follow the expenditure of tax money.

My personal stance is that if a Vermont family wants their child to attend a private school on their own dime, that student can be measured by any means the private school dictates.  But when a student’s tuition is paid for by the taxpayer, the private school should not be able to pick and choose.  Public dollars are for a student’s right to education, period.  What we can’t have is a situation in which you are required to pay taxes spent on an independent school that will not accept your child.

If the legislation passes, private receiving schools will be held to the same standard as public receiving schools. The law will treat all receiving schools the same, and receiving schools will treat all children the same.

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