Vermont religious schools no longer excluded from Town Tuition program

by Chris Woodward

It took years of legal fights, and a related ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, but parties in Vermont have settled two cases involving school tuition and religious discrimination.

School districts that lack their own high schools may now, at the parents’ request, tuition students to parochial and other religious schools. For a listing of all school districts and towns, both tuitioning and non-tuitioning, see Town and Unified School Districts Tuitioning List.

Going back two decades, religious families in Vermont have witnessed their state government offer a tuition program that excluded parochial schools. Last week, five families and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which sued to end the discrimination, watched the Vermont Agency of Education and local school districts agree to a settlement.

Alliance Defending Freedom represented the families and the diocese between two lawsuits, A.H. v French and E.W. v French, that were filed in September of 2020.

ADF attorney Paul Schmitt says the settlement states Vermont’s religious schools are longer excluded from what is known as the Town Tuition Program that aids high school students.

“That basically ends what has been three years of litigation,” Schmitt tells AFN, “over equal access to programs in Vermont, including tuition for students who choose to attend religious schools.”

The tuition program is available in rural areas without a public high school, helping high schoolers to attend a private school – a secular one – of their choice. If that situation sounds familiar, high school students in Maine fell under a similar program that was also excluding religious schools until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June the state was unlawfully discriminating against them. The high court ruled 6-3 in the case known as Carson v. Makin.

According to ADF, the June ruling helped push Vermont’s school officials to acknowledge their tuition program is unconstitutional. A state letter to school districts cited Carson and instructed them they cannot deny tuition payments to religious schools that meet state standards.

Schmitt says one of the terms of the settlement is the families will be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses for school tuition.

“If there are families out there in Vermont, who requested tuition from their school district and they were denied, they should renew that request for reimbursement now to try to recover some of that tuition,” the ADF attorney advises.

ADF credited Vermont attorney Thomas McCormick for serving as local counsel in the ADF lawsuit.

Republished from American Family News

Categories: Education

14 replies »

  1. Freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.

    For “woke” groups obsessed with personal pronouns, they just don’t seem to give a darn at all about prepositions. Go figure.

  2. Re: “Schmitt says one of the terms of the settlement is the families will be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses for school tuition.”

    One of the most important points in this settlement is that the AOE recognized the degree of its malfeasance when State officials agreed to pay $95,000 for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. This sets a profound precedent. Parents who feel aggrieved by their school district’s unwillingness to provide tuitioning where it’s authorized, no longer have to worry that fighting ‘city hall’ is going to cost them an arm and a leg in legal fees.

  3. Trap- don’t fall for it. We are just making a bunch of smaller govt (public ) schools. Get ready to teach what they demand, employ who they demand and fly the flags they demand. Is there any discernment anymore?

  4. leave it to the government to complicate what should be a simple matter of fairness. if someone chooses a religious school then they deserve same treatment as any other school. government is now all about playing favorites

  5. Now… to give choice even IF there IS an available public high school or for that matter elementary school. Won’t happen of course because people would flee the woke indoctrination in hoards and the public schools would be empty, but one can dream..

    • Great point. In fact, your school district already has that option for grades 7 thru 12. It’s up to your school board.

      V.S.A. 16 Education, Chapter 21: Maintenance Of Public Schools
      § 822. School district to maintain public high schools or pay tuition
      (c)(1) A school district may both maintain a high school and furnish high school education by paying tuition:
      (B) to an approved independent school or an independent school meeting education quality standards if the school board judges that a student has unique educational needs that cannot be served within the district or at a nearby public school.
      (2) The judgment of the board shall be final in regard to the institution the students may attend at public cost.

      Of course, we know that all students have unique educational needs, so the parents who want to send their kids to alternative independent schools, including religious schools, should petition their school board. And if the school board refuses to acknowledge the request, elect school boards sympathetic to parental choices…. or sue them.

      The ball is now in your court, parents. Go for it.

  6. Will the schools be forced to change their doctrine and *support* things traditionally not supported by God?

  7. In the 1990’s the Institute for Justice represented several families in Chittenden (next to Mendon) that were denied tuition to send their children to religious schools in Rutland. The VT Supreme Court wrongfully ruled against the families. About the same time I led a campaign to amend the Rutland City Charter to create a school choice opportunity – including parochial schools – for City residents. Voters approved the change 55% to 45%, but because municipal charters must be approved by the Legislature it was buried in a committee and never came up for a vote. Legally, that charter amendment is still available for the Legislature to approve, but getting a positive vote in the House and Senate in the current Legislature would be even more difficult than in 1999.