Approved Religious Schools Eligible for Public Funds, Says VT Education Secretary | Education | Seven days

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  • File: Olivier Parini
  • Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington

Vermont school districts must use public money to pay students who attend approved religious schools that meet state education quality standards, Secretary of Education Dan French wrote in a memo sent to school superintendents on Tuesday.

The new guidelines follow the June decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Carson v. Makinwhich concluded that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from its schooling program violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. In dissent to Decision 6-3, Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court “continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.”

Vermont has a schooling system similar to Maine’s, in which families in towns without public schools are allowed to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to a public or independent school of their choice. For example, a
Grand Isle Supervisory Union student, who does not have a high school, could choose to attend a public institution in Chittenden or Franklin County – or a private school.

Supreme Court ruling could affect public funding for religious schools in Vermont

Rice Memorial High School, a Catholic school in South Burlington

Supreme Court ruling could affect public funding for religious schools in Vermont

By Alison Novak

Education

“Requests for payment of tuition fees by resident students to accredited independent religious schools or religious independent schools that meet quality of education standards shall be treated in the same manner as requests for payment of tuition fees to schools accredited secular independent schools or secular independent schools that meet quality standards of education,” French’s memo. said.


In recent years, the State Board of Education and a federal appeals court ordered school districts in Vermont to pay religious school tuition.

In April 2021, the state board ordered three school districts to reimburse families for the tuition they paid to send their children to Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Rutland and New England Classical Academy in Claremont, NH – two Catholic schools – and Kent School, a Connecticut prep. school affiliated with the Episcopal Church. And in June of that year, a federal appeals court ruled that four school districts without public high schools were required to retroactively pay tuition for students at Rice Memorial High School, a Catholic school in South Burlington.

In a directory of independent schools linked in the memo, 17 of the 90 independent schools approved by the state — and therefore eligible for public funds — are religious. All 17 are Christians; there are no Jewish or Muslim schools, for example.

Approved schools vary in size and are located throughout the state. They include Bishop A. Marshall, a Roman Catholic day school in Morrisville that serves 135 students in kindergarten through 8th grade; Caledonia Christian School in St. Johnsbury which serves only seven students in grades one through eight; Grace Christian School in Bennington, which has 146 students from kindergarten to grade 12; and Mater Christi in Burlington, with 229 K-8 students.

Many accredited religious schools state on their websites that religion is infused into all parts of the curriculum. For instance, Grace Christian School website declares that “eeach subject is taught from a Christian point of view.“The website of Middle Vermont Christian School at White River Junction, another approved school, reads: ‘TChristian street education begins with the understanding that the lordship of Jesus Christ pertains to all areas of life. This means that every area of ​​human knowledge is informed by Christ and by a biblical perspective – even areas such as mathematics.”

In the last legislative session, lawmakers considered a bill that would have prohibited religious schools from using taxpayer money to support religious education. The legislation, S.219, cleared the Senate but stalled in the House after lawmakers said they wanted to see the outcome of the Carson v. Makin case before going any further.

Sen. Brian Campion (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he was determined to revive the bill in the next legislative session.

This fight is not over yet,” Campion said in an email to Seven days Wednesday. “I am still committed to working to eventually stop taxpayer dollars from going to religious schools without harming the educational landscape that works so well in Vermont.”

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