Tag Archives: Burr and Burton Academy

Approved Independent Schools Are Under-Regulated and Growing

The High Castle Burr and Burton Academy

State Auditor Doug Hoffer recently issued the second of two performance audits on Vermont’s approved independent schools. You may have missed it because it was virtually ignored by the #vtpoli media. (Both reports can be accessed here.)

The lack of coverage deserves a post of its own. For now, let’s get to the meat of Hoffer’s work. He didn’t find any smoking guns, but he did identify a striking trend and some definite lapses in oversight by the state. It’s a dangerous combination, especially with so many indy-related people on the state board of education.

Hoffer’s first report focused on an educational double standard: the rules for public schools and AIS’s are quite different, and favor the latter. The high points:

  • The Education Secretary is required in state law to ensure that public schools comply with the law. There is no such provision for AIS’s.
  • Public schools must follow public-records and open-meetings laws, ensuring a measure of transparency and accountability. The AIS’s do not.
  • Educational quality standards are much looser for AIS’s than for public schools.
  • Public schoolteachers must be licensed by the state. Not so for AIS’s.

There’s more, but that gives you the general idea that the indies can cut lots and lots of corners, and are less accountable for how they spend Education Fund money.

Now we get to Hoffer’s second report, which reveals that the AIS’s are taking a larger and larger share of K-12 dollars. Details after the jump.

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The Governor Puts His Thumb on the Education Scale

The news may be official by the time you read this post, but I’ve gotten word that Gov. Phil Scott has chosen two new members of the State Board of Education. The last two Peter Shumlin appointees on the 10-member board, Peter Peltz and William Mathis, have seen their terms come to an end. Yep, the entire board is now made up of Phil Scott appointees.

This ought to concern anyone interested in the health of the public school system. Since his initial run for governor in 2016, Scott has been nosing around some pretty big education reforms. He’s talked up a single statewide school district, which would include a statewide school voucher system. Such a system would drain resources from the public schools. Scott has also consistently voiced support for a “cradle to career” approach to education, which would likely mean giving some Ed Fund dollars to child care, early education, and secondary education.

Also looming overhead are the legal challenges to Vermont’s ban on paying tuition to religious schools. Given the compensation of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s likely that Vermont will have to accommodate an unfriendly ruling sometime soon. The easiest way around these lawsuits is to stop paying tuition to any non-public school, including the approved independent schools like the St. Johnsbury Academy and the Burr and Burton Academy. That’s politically unlikely, but the composition of the State Board of Education makes it even less likely.

Lovett was the headmaster of St. Johnsbury Academy until last June, when he stepped down after 19 years on the job. His appointment would mean that fully half of the board, and half of its voting members, have strong connections to approved independent schools.

Jepson is executive director of Chamber & Economic Development of the Rutland Region. (The clumsily-named C&ED was born of a merger between the Rutland Chamber of Commerce and the Rutland Economic Development Corporation.) Before that, Jepson was head of the Career & Technical Teacher Education Program at Vermont Technical College.

So, two more people with no particular tie to the public education system are joining the body that oversees the public education system.

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Are VT’s “Approved Independent Schools” Too Independent?

Scrappy little independent, there.

As is his wont, State Auditor Doug Hoffer is questioning conventional wisdom. And it’ll probably win him as many popularity points as it usually does.

This week, Hoffer released a performance audit of Vermont’s “approved independent schools,” as they like to call themselves. (Heaven forbid you should call them “private schools,” which is what they are.) What he found, in the words of his report’s title, is that these schools “are not subject to most of the statutes and rules that govern public schools.”

These are private schools that have been approved by the state Board of Education to receive public tuition dollars. They are located in rural areas where it might not be practical for each district to serve its entire K-12 population. That may be enough of a public service to compensate for the fact that they are taking students and dollars away from the public school system.

But perhaps, if they’re accepting tens of millions in public funding every year, they should be held to the same standards as public schools.

And as Hoffer points out, they are decidedly not. This allows them to cut corners in ways that public schools cannot, and shields them from the kind of rigorous oversight that public schools are subject to from state officials and district voters.

After the jump: Details and conclusions.

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