Institute to Appeal Vermont School Choice Ruling

John Kramer
John Kramer · July 1, 1997

Washington, D.C. ­The Institute for Justice announced today that it will appeal the adverse school choice ruling issued by the Rutland Superior Court on Friday, June 27.

At issue in this case is whether or not the Chittenden Town School District could pay the tuition of any high school student whose parents choose to send them to a religiously affiliated school. In some 90 Vermont towns which are too small to support local public high schools, parents who choose to send their children to any secular public or private school (even those outside the state) have their tuition paid by the town. But while Vermont’s tuition statute-created in 1869 to ensure both urban and rural school kids get a quality secondary education-does not distinguish between religiously and non-religiously affiliated schools, the Vermont Department of Education has decided to make that distinction. As a result, parents who choose to send their children to a religiously affiliated high school must pay the tuition out of their own pocket.

In his decision, Judge Alden Bryan recognized the inconsistency between two Vermont Supreme Court decisions involving tuitioning kids to religious schools: a 1961decision prohibiting the practice and 1994 decision permitting parental reimbursement. He chose to follow the earlier negative decision, questioning the reasoning of the Vermont Supreme Court in its more recent decision.

“The judge’s opinion stands in sharp contrast to recent opinions by the Vermont Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that stated so long as such educational programs are neutral to religion, they can be used at religiously affiliated institutions,” said Richard Komer, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, which represents the school district. “Vermont’s tuitioning program doesn’t give parents an incentive to select one or any religious schools over any other school. It is completely neutral therefor paying tuition for kids who attend parent-selected religious schools is unquestionably constitutional.”

Chittenden Town School District has been asked by parents to pay their children’s tuition to Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, a local Catholic high school.

“Just as taxpayer-supported Pell Grants and the G.I. Bill grants can be applied to religious colleges or universities-even to pursue a divinity degree-Vermont should not artificially limit parents’ full education choice for their children,” Komer concluded.

The Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. Through strategic litigation, training, and outreach, the Institute secures greater protection for individual liberty, challenges the scope and ideology of the Regulatory Welfare State, and illustrates and extends the benefits of freedom to those whose full enjoyment of liberty is denied by government. The Institute was founded in September 1991 by William Mellor and Clint Bolick.



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