Education landscape shifting as Act 46-induced ‘un-mergers’ begin and state money goes to religious schools

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.

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.

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.

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.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

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5 thoughts on “Education landscape shifting as Act 46-induced ‘un-mergers’ begin and state money goes to religious schools

  1. Rebecca Holcombe also supports Critical Race Theory and the total ineptitude of the vast majority of Vermont Public Schools. She’s a phony intellectual.

  2. Meanwhile, even while unprecedented Federal aid is being injected into the public education system, the Vermont Agency of Education threatens to withhold funding from the Ripton, VT school district because it chose to withdraw from its supervisory union in order to have more choices.
    https://vtdigger.org/2021/09/17/having-gained-independence-ripton-now-considers-re-merging/

    It’s little wonder school boards are recognizing the tyranny of the State education monopoly and it’s a refreshing change that teachers are figuring out the benefits realized in an education free market too. Thank goodness the school boards are the final arbiters.

    “16 V.S.A. § 822. School district to maintain public high schools or pay tuition, (2) The judgment of the board shall be final in regard to the institution the students may attend at public cost.”

    Soon, I hope, the court decisions on a couple of cases currently in Vermont’s Federal Courts, allowing elementary school boards (grades PK-6) the same options as provided in 16 V.S.A. § 822, will be forthcoming.

  3. The money should follow the child, no matter if they home school, attend a religion based curriculum etc. As along as parents have the right to raise their children, we parents make these decisions to decide what is in the best interest of the children. With the trend in public school being that of less than normal education, ie reading, writing and arithmetic, with political agendas being forced on our unsuspecting children, we the parents should be in control of the funding for our childrens educations. Isn’t that exactly what the Stowe and Lincoln groups are actually doing, providing the schools they want to fund for the education of their children.

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