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Vermont State Board Sets New School-Approval Requirements

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The Vermont Board of Education has proposed a comprehensive school-improvement plan that would require all school districts to raise the overall quality of their programs before they could receive state approval.

The school-approval standards, which the board adopted in a unanimous vote late last month, would require--for the first time in the state--all school districts to offer kindergarten programs and to establish an appropriate "school climate," in addition to increasing minimum course requirements for students.

Developed by the state depart3ment of education, the standards have been discussed in meetings with legislators, parents, educators, and special-interest groups throughout the state.

The state board is scheduled to hold a public hearing next month on the school-approval standards, which will cost an estimated $12.5 million to implement. A transcript of the hearing will be submitted to the state legislature's Administrative Rules Committee for a determination on whether the proposed standards meet legislative intent. Under state law, the committee must review such board actions to make sure the board has not exceeded its legal authority.

If authorized by the legislative6committee, the proposed regulations would be fully implemented in September 1986. Meanwhile, about 30 school districts out of some 274 statewide will be asked to adopt the proposed standards on a voluntary basis next September. Both local and state officials will then evaluate the program to determine the schools' ability to comply with the proposed mandates.

Cost Factor

Commissioner of Education Stephen S. Kaagan said last week in an interview that the two-year delay in the effective date of the proposed regulations is a compromise designed to address concerns of local education officials about the cost ofel5Lmeeting the proposed standards.

"The fight was whether we would get to propose the standards in the first place," Commissioner Kaagan said. "These standards will mean an increase in outlay for education of nearly $13 million. That's not an enormous amount, but in the present state climate it's a significant amount."

Faced with a current state budget deficit that may reach $28 million, the legislature has not been receptive to Gov. Richard A. Snelling's request for $10 million in additional state aid for schools, part of which would help support mandatory kindergarten programs. The state now provides about $300 million in aid to local schools.

"There was a point in the deliberations where a number of people felt we should wait," Mr. Kaagan said. One of the issues, he added, was whether the state board had proposed the new standards prematurely, before the legislature had solved its fiscal problem.

"We were able to convince them [that the proposed standard] might provoke state aid reform," Mr. Kaagan said. "We felt very strongly that this was an important year to establish standards of definition of educational equality. I think what we've done here is beneficial."

"School Climate"

Under the new rules, school districts would be responsible for establishing a "school climate" that encourages positive relationships between students and teachers and between the school and community at large. The standards also require school officials to develop curricula that are "free of bias and stereotypes" and to conduct annual reviews of the school climate.

Schools with 10 or more teachers would have to employ a principal to provide curricular and instructional leadership and those with less than 10 teachers would be required to designate supervisory staff to work on "a full-time equivalent basis."

The standards would also require all students to have at least 16.5 credits before they can graduate, an increase of half a credit. But unlike the current regulations, the new standards specify requirements for each subject area.

Under the proposed standards, students would have to accumulate four credits in English, three credits each in mathematics, science, and social studies; one credit each in art and foreign language; and one and one-half credits in physical education. The current standards require only one credit each in mathematics and science, two credits in social studies, and four credits of English.

School districts that do not meet the proposed standards would be barred from accepting tuition-paying students from other districts and, as a last resort, could also lose state aid, according to a spokesman for the state department of education.

"I don't believe [the standards] go beyond the legitimate state role," said Mr. Kaagan. "Quality is still the province of local boards,'' he said. "We've simply provided a framework."

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