Vt. Voucher Claim Rejected

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A Vermont state judge has rejected a small school district's proposal to pay tuition for children attending a Roman Catholic high school, ruling that it would violate the religion clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

The decision came days after the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Agostini v. Felton, which authorized public school teachers to provide remedial services in religious schools. Advocates of private school vouchers argue that Agostini includes several passages that bolster their cause.

But Judge Alden T. Bryan of Rutland County Superior Court explicitly rejected the idea that the Agostini decision had opened the door for voucher programs involving religious schools. While the high court ruling " expands the type of government aid that may benefit sectarian schools, it reaffirms the importance of core establishment-clause principles," Judge Bryan said in a June 27 ruling.

The judge ruled unconstitutional a proposed program by the 200-student Chittenden district to pay the tuition for 15 students to attend a Catholic high school. The district is one of 90 in the state that, because they do not have their own high schools, pay the tuition for students to attend nonsectarian private high schools or public high schools in other districts. The practice is called "tuitioning." (See Education Week, Sept. 18, 1996.)

State education officials threatened to withdraw all funding from Chittenden if it went through with its plan to expand its "tuitioning" program.

The district agreed to delay implementing its plan while the state courts ruled on its constitutionality.

Appeal Planned

Judge Bryan said the Chittenden plan "goes far beyond the lines drawn in Agostini."

For example, the district's tuition payments would go directly to the coffers of the religious school, which could use the money for its religious purposes, he said.

The Chittenden school board voted last week to appeal the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Vol. 16, Issue 40, Page 26

Published in Print: July 9, 1997, as Vt. Voucher Claim Rejected
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