Religious schools in Vermont are receiving public taxpayer funds after the Supreme Court ruled states must not discriminate based on religion, and some schools forced to merge under Act 46 are now choosing to part ways after all.
Back in April, the State Board of Education instructed three school districts to pay tuition money to families who choose to send their children to religious schools. This occurs in school choice communities in Vermont, meaning families in towns that don’t have their own dedicated school can now receive tuition dollars to send kids to religious schools.
School districts in Rutland Town, Hartland, Ludlow-Mount Holly, and Mount Ascutney were named in the associated court cases.
Public education advocates, including former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, have taken offense to these court decisions. She argues religious schools are discriminatory since many religions limit marriage to men and women and have codes of sexual ethics that differ from hers.
You can now use the @VTAfterschool website to find a summer program w/ this "values" statement.
They accept taxpayer-funded childcare vouchers unless you are #LGTBQ.
If you are, they exclude you.#vtpoli, just how much compelled support of state-funded discrimination is ok?#vted pic.twitter.com/0eLVHQ32Mu
— Rebecca Holcombe (@RHolcombeVT) April 28, 2021
Shawn Smith, the principal of Grace Christian School in Bennington, sent a brief statement to other media defending their right to admit students at least in part based on how their personal values align with those of the school. He said that applicants can be rejected “if the atmosphere or conduct within the home or the activities of the student are counter to or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches.”
Holcombe also posted that according to the legislative council any efforts to force private schools to act otherwise could result in further legal action.
1/ #vted #vtpoli
From the keyboard of VT legislative counsel:
“requiring religious schools to comply with the antidiscrimination laws that apply to public schools as a condition to receiving public tuition would almost certainly be challenged in court…https://t.co/gJt6pa65s5
— Rebecca Holcombe (@RHolcombeVT) May 6, 2021
She also shared a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaking on the issue had said, “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
@DeeleyVt had a more candid response to money for religious schools.
— C Deels (@DeeleyVt) April 22, 2021
Act 46 ‘divorces’
After the Vermont Supreme Court finalized its support for state-forced school mergers back in 2020, some Vermont communities were forced to combine their school governance structures even when it went against the will of their voters.
Provisions in Act 46 do allow for those communities put through forced mergers at this point they can vote to return to their prior, more local-controlled governance. Some schools are already well underway.
In May, the voters in Stowe decided to withdraw from the Act 46-induced Lamoille South Unified Union School District by 1,068 to 464 votes. In late August, another Act 46 ‘divorce’ was the residents of Lincoln voted 525-172 to withdraw their school out of the Mount Abraham Unified School District. Then in September three communities that comprise the Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District voted strongly to finalize their own Act 46-related separation.
In Lincoln, some residents formed an anti-merger group called Save Our Schools. The group presented a PowerPoint presentation detailing the case for the withdrawal and the cost/logistics of the de-coupling process, which won’t be formally completed until 2024 and must include approval from the State Board of Education.
It states that by the supervisory union’s calculations, under the current merged status their resident’s property taxes are projected to increase 30 percent by 2024. The group urgers that a return to local control will ultimately save money.
“We do not agree with their assumptions [of the Act 46 advocates] and therefore do not believe taxes will increase more than usual annual increase whether in the district or not,” it states.