Vermont ends practice of religious discrimination 

by Jacob Fuller

Curt Flewelling, FISM News


Vermont families who choose to send their children to faith-based schools can now receive tuition assistance from the state. This determination is a result of a settlement between the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the state of Vermont.

ADF filed suit on behalf of several families and the Diocese of Burlington on the grounds that their clients were the victims of religious discrimination. The disaffected parties argued that they had a right to receive tuition assistance from the state even though their kids were enrolled in religious schools.

On Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont entered a stipulated judgment enforcing the settlement agreement and the parties moved to settle the case.

The state’s move to settle rather than continue to deny tuition assistance to families whose children attended religious schools was largely a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on a similar case in June.

In the case of Carson v. Makin, the court ruled by a 6-3 margin that the state of Maine could not exclude families who send their children to religious schools from its state-funded tuition reimbursement program. Based on this decision, Vermont officials acquiesced as they determined that their exclusionary practice was now rendered unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Vermont’s Agency of Education wrote a letter to school districts, stating, “School districts may not deny tuition payments to religious approved independent schools or religious independent schools that meet educational quality standards.”

The letter went on to say that the First Amendment requires districts to treat tuition requests for religious schools the same as secular school tuition requests.

Before the settlement, Vermont families of students who lived in towns without public schools were able to use state tuition benefits if they chose to attend public schools outside of their region or approved secular private schools. However, if they chose to attend religious schools, they were denied the benefits.

ADF Legal Counsel Paul Schmitt lauded the state’s decision to capitulate on the matter. In an ADF press release, Schmitt said, “All parents should be able to send their kids to schools that are the best fit for them, and the First Amendment protects parents’ right to choose religious schools.”

He continued, “For more than two decades, Vermont unlawfully excluded religious schools and their students from public benefits, essentially eliminating school choice for many parents in the state.”