Court upholds tuition fees for students of religious school
A federal appeals court on Wednesday explained its decision to prevent Vermont from excluding tuition funding for students attending a religious school, saying a lower court ruling earlier this year did not go far enough to achieve it.
The notice follows a February 2nd Circuit injunction against the state, and in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that states cannot abolish schools religious programs that send public money to private education.
The appeals court issued its injunction on behalf of four Catholic high school students, their parents and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
The case concerns a voucher program that allows students from communities that do not have a school or are not part of watchdog unions to attend schools of their choice, including approved private institutions. The students requested reimbursement of tuition fees from the Catholic high school, but were refused on the grounds that the school is a religiously affiliated school.
A federal judge agreed in January that students should not be excluded from funding, but did not allow them to participate in the voucher program until the case is resolved. The judge felt that the state needed an opportunity to develop new eligibility criteria for the vouchers. But the students wanted to participate in the voucher program this semester.
The appeals court ordered the judge to change the decision so that the students could be reimbursed.
“Today the court strongly affirmed the principle that believers deserve equal access to the public benefits that everyone gets,” said Paul Schmitt, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented the students on Wednesday. “Once Vermont chose to subsidize private education, it couldn’t disqualify some private schools just because they’re ‘too religious’. When the state offers parents the choice of school, it cannot withdraw the choice of a religious school. “
Ted Wilson, spokesperson for the Vermont Education Agency, said the agency is not commenting on pending litigation.
In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote, upheld a Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private education in which nearly all recipients attend religious schools.
A lawsuit brought by three Maine families who want the state to pay religious school fees has been dismissed by the Boston 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. The families appealed to the United States Supreme Court.