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High Court ruling sets up clash in Vermont education funding

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday is a big win for supporters of school choice and religious liberty that will have a direct impact on Vermont.
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 6:09 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:55 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday is a big win for supporters of school choice and religious liberty that will have a direct impact on Vermont.

The High Court ruled six to three that Maine can’t exclude religious schools from a program that offers tuition aid for private education, a decision that could ease religious organizations’ access to taxpayer money.

Vermont has a similar system where students in some rural communities that do not have high schools can attend another school. These students live in so-called school “choice towns,” which give students a voucher to attend public, private, or independent schools. Under this ruling, that now will include religious schools.

Vermont Law School professor Jared Carter says the ruling could have far-reaching implications for Vermont school districts. “It says no, that distinction between the status of a school as a religious institution and its educational approach in educating students through religious perceptions is not a real distinction,” he said.

The ruling means that every Vermont taxpayer could be helping to fund the operation of religious schools, since schools are paid out of the statewide Education Fund. It affirms a 2020 lower court ruling after which Vermont education officials did allow voucher funds to be used for schools with a religious school status. But the state said then that the school would have to certify that they were not using the funds for religious instruction.

Tuesday’s ruling essentially forces state lawmakers back to the drawing board to address the discrepancies with state law. Carter says Vermont has a constitutional provision that says mandatory support for religion is not allowed. He says Vermont could address the discrepancy by tying the state’s funding mechanism to the school’s curriculum.

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