One of Vermont’s independent schools is hiking its tuition. Could that spell trouble for local public schools? – vtdigger.orgApril 21, 2022
The Sharon Academy. Photo via The Sharon Academy
At The Sharon Academy, an independent school in Windsor County, most students’ tuition is subsidized by a generous backer: the state of Vermont.
Like many of Vermont’s independent schools — elsewhere called private schools — The Sharon Academy receives taxpayer money to educate students from towns with no middle or high school.
Normally, Vermont law places limits on how much public money can go to independent schools. But earlier this year, the school got a green light from state officials to hike that tuition by nearly $1,700 per student from the current year — a decision that has caused concern for local public school officials and raised fears of a statewide precedent.
“I’m very concerned that this could result in significantly impacting our elementary school programming in a negative way,” Jamie Kinnarney, the superintendent of the White River Valley Supervisory Union, told state officials last fall in an email obtained through a public records request.
The supervisory union’s school districts serve students in roughly a dozen towns in Windsor County. The move, he said, could cost them “in excess of over a quarter of a million dollars.”
The connection between private school tuition and public school services is a complex one and highlights Vermont’s unique education funding system.
Students who live in districts that don’t operate public schools at all grade levels, known as sending districts, get taxpayer money for tuition at public or private schools elsewhere — sometimes even outside the state or country.
Per state law, public tuition payments to independent schools are capped at a figure called the Average Announced Tuition, the average of all the tuition amounts charged by the state’s public schools for out-of-district students.
For the current school year, that amount is $15,513 for elementary school students and $16,842 for 7th through 12th grade students.
Four of Vermont’s independent schools — Burr and Burton Academy, St. Johnsbury Academy, Lyndon Institute, and Thetford Academy — are exempt from those requirements, for various reasons.
Those four schools, known as the four historic academies, have unique relationships with the state Agency of Education. State law also exempts private schools that meet a set of state educational criteria, the Education Quality Standards, from that cap. </…….