February 5, 2023
Vermont’s prime training official says faculty districts can’t deny tuition to non secular faculties
Vermont’s prime training official says faculty districts can’t deny tuition to non secular faculties
Dan French, secretary of the Vermont Company of Training, speaks throughout a Covid-19 press convention in September 2021. File photograph by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Vermont’s prime training official has advised faculty districts they can’t withhold public tuition cash to colleges due to their spiritual affiliation, issuing what seems to be the state’s first public steerage on the topic since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court docket choice this summer season.

“Requests for tuition funds for resident college students to permitted unbiased spiritual faculties or spiritual unbiased faculties that meet instructional high quality requirements have to be handled the identical as requests for tuition funds to secular permitted unbiased faculties or secular unbiased faculties that meet instructional high quality requirements,” Dan French, Vermont’s secretary of training, advised superintendents in a Tuesday letter. 

The brand new steerage comes three months after a U.S. Supreme Court docket choice in a Maine case, Carson v. Makin, which is predicted to have a major affect on Vermont’s instructional panorama.

Maine, like Vermont, is just too rural and sparsely populated to function public faculties in all cities. To make sure each youngster has entry to training, each states permit college students in some areas to make use of public cash to attend close by personal faculties.

Each states beforehand positioned restrictions on that public cash going to non secular faculties. In 2018, a bunch of Maine dad and mom sued over these restrictions, alleging that they have been victims of discrimination as a result of their kids couldn’t use public {dollars} to attend Christian faculties. 

In a 6-3 choice June 21, the Supreme Court docket sided with the dad and mom, ruling that the Maine program amounted to unconstitutional discrimination. 

That call is predicted to have broad implications for Vermont’s system, the place some dad and mom have additionally sought public {dollars} to ship their kids to non secular faculties. 

However Vermont’s structure presents a singular wrinkle. A provision often called the “compelled help clause” prohibits Vermonters from being pressured to help a faith that they don’t follow, or one that’s “opposite to the dictates of conscience.”

The Supreme Court docket’s choice has raised questions on whether or not using faculty district funds — taxpayer cash — for tuition at spiritual faculties may violate that clause.

In Tuesday’s letter, French explicitly mentioned that public faculty districts couldn’t withhold tuition funding to non secular faculties based mostly on the compelled help clause.

However Peter Teachout, a constitutional regulation professor at Vermont Regulation Faculty, questioned that steerage. 

“I don’t know who’s accountable for offering the (Company of Training) with authorized and constitutional recommendation, however I believe that advising native faculty districts to violate a key provision within the Vermont structure with out at the very least exploring whether or not that’s required by the Supreme Court docket choice within the Carson case, and with out exploring choices out there for complying with each that call and with the Vermont structure, is deeply problematical,” Teachout mentioned in an electronic mail to VTDigger. 

Noting that Maine’s structure had no compelled help clause, Teachout floated the potential for a short lived maintain on all public tuition funds to personal faculties till state lawmakers devise an answer. Vermont lawmakers tried and failed to deal with the problem within the legislative session earlier this 12 months, and count on to return to it within the coming session. 

“The higher, the extra accountable, recommendation underneath the circumstances would have been to instruct native faculty districts to limit tuition reimbursement funds to public faculties in different districts till the state legislature has had time to behave,” Teachout mentioned. 

Tuesday’s letter doesn’t appear to characterize a major shift in the established order: Vermont faculty districts have already been paying tuition for college students to attend personal spiritual faculties.

Throughout the 2020-21 faculty 12 months, 14 Vermont college students obtained roughly $150,000 in public cash for tuition at spiritual faculties, in response to information supplied by the Vermont Impartial Faculties Affiliation. 

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