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 and two in Addison 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 seventh through 12th grade students.
A handful of Vermont’s independent schools are exempt from those requirements. St. Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute are not bound by those public tuition caps because they operate regional tech centers.
State law also exempts private schools that meet a set of state educational criteria, the Education Quality Standards, from that cap.
So far, the only independent school that meets those standards is Thetford Academy. But last summer, The Sharon Academy …….