MONTPELIER, Vermont — Citing a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that says states can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education, the Vermont State Board of Education has decided that the school districts of three students must pay the tuition for them to attend religious schools as part of a state tuition benefit that they were denied.
The three families had appealed their school boards’ denial to the state board, which issued its decision on Wednesday.
“Based on the limited record before the Board, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s controlling decision in Espinoza, the tuition denials” in the appeals “must be reversed,” the board wrote.
In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Supreme court ruled 5-4 that states must give religious schools the same access to public funding that other private schools receive, preserving a Montana scholarship program that had largely benefited students at religious institutions.
The Vermont board said that the limited record available shows only that the tuition requests were denied by the school boards on the advice of counsel and does not establish that they were denied “because the schools at issue would use public funds for religious worship or instruction.”
The families live in areas where the school districts will pay tuition for a student to attend public schools operated by other districts or an approved independent school.
The families were seeking tuition to send their students to attend Mount St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic school in Rutland, Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church; and New England Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Claremont, New Hampshire. The school districts are Rutland Town, Mount Ascutney and Hartland. A fourth district had denied the tuition benefit for another student to attend Mount St. Joseph but later changed its decision.