Tag Archives: St. Johnsbury 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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More on the motto: true to Vermont’s heritage

(Note: See also this follow-up post on the motto’s approval by a Senate committee.)

Of all the stuff I’ve written about Vermont politics and policy on this blog and earlier on Green Mountain Daily, the single-most-read piece I’ve ever posted was last week’s post about the proposed addition of a Latin state motto. So I thought I’d add some historical information for those still skeptical about the idea.

For those just joining us, Sen. Joe Benning has sponsored a bill designating a new Latin motto — not to displace “Freedom and Unity,” but to exist side-by-side. He did so at the behest of Angela Kubicke, a ninth-grade student at The Riverside School in Lyndonville*, who is apparently way smarter than I was in the ninth grade. Or certainly more dedicated and focused.

*Correction: Kubicke was an eighth-grader at Riverside when she first approached Sen. Benning; she is now a first-year student at St. Johnsbury Academy, and is also a member of the Latin Club at the Lyndon Institute. Credit where credit’s due. 

The motto, Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat, is translated as “May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright.” It’s a nod to Vermont’s status as the 14th state to join the Union — hence, the 14th star on the flag. My original post had to do with ignorant Facebook commenters who confused Latin with Latin America — basically telling Joe and Angela to take their motto and go back to Mexico.

There were also plenty of comments accusing the Senator of wasting time on such nonsense — when, in fact, bills like this take up very little of anyone’s time. In the opening weeks of the session, most of the work takes place in committees; and while other committees are debating taxes, budget, education, environment, etc., one single committee will spend probably a few minutes on this issue. The entire Senate does not grind to a halt over stuff like this.

There was also a third class of ignorant comments, saying we should stick with our heritage and not drag in some newfangled foreign motto.

StellaQuartaDecimaBut in fact, Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat is a direct tribute to Vermont’s early status as an independent republic. During that time, it was pretty clear that Vermont would eventually join the United States, and the monicker “14th Star” was commonly used. In 1786, the government authorized the minting of Vermont coins; the phrase Stella Quarta Decima was included on the “tails” side of Vermont’s first coin.

So the motto is not new at all; it’s a reflection of Vermont’s early history. As is the use of Latin.

The next step in the odyssey of Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat will take place at 2 pm on Wednesday, February 11, when Angela Kubicke will testify before the Senate Government Operations Committee.  “I suspect she will make a very good impression,” said Sen. Benning in a comment to my previous posting. “I am also willing to lay odds that the tripartisan membership of that committee will vote unanimously in support of the bill, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that legislators still care about the Classics and Vermont’s heritage.”

What started out as a small civics lesson for a single student may well become a big lesson in history — and open-mindedness — for all of us.