In Vermont, residents of towns without public schools for all grade levels are eligible to have their tuition at another private school funded by the state, through the Vermont Town Tuition Program. The town pays tuition for students who attend eligible schools in lieu of operating a public school.
Previously, students who opted to attend religiously-affiliated schools were not eligible for tuition assistance, while students at secular private schools and public schools in nearby towns were eligible. In February 2021, the Second Circuit issued a mandate preventing towns from enforcing the policy against religious school students.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the court cited the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer; in that decision, the court ruled that a Missouri no-aid clause could not be used to block a church-owned playground from accessing a public benefit it would otherwise be eligible for, simply on account of its religious status.
“Four years ago, the Supreme Court reminded states that it ‘has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest of the highest order,’” the Second Circuit court judges stated.
“Today the court powerfully affirmed the principle that people of faith deserve equal access to public benefits everyone else gets,” said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Schmitt in a statement on Wednesday.
“Once Vermont chose to subsidize private education, it could not disqualify some private schools solely because they are ‘too religious.’ When the state offers parents school choice, it cannot take away choices for a religious school,” he said.