Lawmakers approve bill to restrict funds to some independent and religious schools

Lawmakers in the Senate Committee on Education on Friday passed a bill 6-0 that would restrict public funds going to some independent and religious schools.

The bill, S.219, would mandate that “the school or program has adequate safeguards to ensure that none of the tuition for which payment is requested has been or will be used to support religious instruction or worship or the propagation of religious views,” the bill text reads.

If it becomes law, independent schools will be required to follow public schools’ antidiscrimination policies if they want to receive federal funds. S.219 would “prohibit a school district from paying public tuition to a qualified school or program, regardless of religious status or affiliation, unless the school or program complies with federal and State antidiscrimination laws applicable to public schools.”

state of Vermont

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington

Legislative counsel James DesMarais said during the committee meeting that any non-compliance with the standards set by public schools can result in a student or teacher filing a report to the school board. Ultimately, the school could lose public funding.

On Thursday, committee chair Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, said public money going to religious schools is a big concern for him.

“I feel like we know that dollars are going to religious schools right now, and so we need to put some guard rails on that, and we need to protect the students and the staff,” he said.

The committee received a joint statement from four executive directors from the state’s education organizations: the Vermont School Boards Association, the Vermont NEA, the Vermont Superintendent’s Association, and the Vermont Principals’ Association..

The organizations have taken a position that the state should forego giving state money to private schools altogether.

“In order to meet this mandate, the State must ensure that all schools that receive public dollars reflect our framers’ vision of public education by being inclusive and providing quality instruction that gives children the tools they need in order to succeed,” they wrote. “The best approach for the State to take to address the issues in S.219 is to fund only public schools. The debate over this legislation, the testimony that has been provided to the Committee, and pending litigation in Vermont amply illustrate that funding private schools requires the State to navigate a morass of complicated legal and logistical issues.”

Sue Ceglowski, director of the Vermont School Boards Association, told the committee Thursday  that more “accountability measures” should be included in the state’s contracts with independent schools.

“It would be important to include other basic requirements around things like curriculum, staff qualification, open meetings, public records requirements, fiscal accountability, and student assessments,” she said.

It’s not clear if such requirements might, for example, prohibit a religious school from having religion classes.

Ceglowski said the bill lacks clarity regarding its antidiscrimination components.

“It’s not clear to us looking at this version of the bill that the private schools that are receiving public funds are required to comply with the Equal Education Opportunities Act because there isn’t a readily available list of every single antidiscrimination law from the State of Vermont and federally. And I’m not clear whether this law falls under an antidiscrimination law or not,” she said.

DesMarais said that should not be a concern.

“It covers all federal and state antidiscrimination laws,” he said.

The bill probably won’t be on the floor for a while, said Campion, the chair of the committee. Instead it is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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

Images courtesy of and state of Vermont

12 thoughts on “Lawmakers approve bill to restrict funds to some independent and religious schools

  1. I’d like to hear of the cases where private schools have violated the discrimination laws. — If there are none that can be cited, then this law is about controlling parents for the benefit of teacher unions.

  2. S.219 is merely a continuation of state control over all education. The state legislature helped the state educational system to take control of home child care so that many good people could no longer care for your children due to burdensome rules and regulations. Now they want to control private schools. Once that foot is in the door it’s game over. If parents don’t want religion as part of their child’s school then choose another school. It’s called SCHOOL CHOICE. The state needs to focus on safety and security of its citizens and less time spent on who is hearing the word God. This is another blatant attempt from those in Montpelier trying to justify their existence and time under the golden dome.
    They should be focused on roads, bridges, pensions and revitalization of our business community. It’s time for a change!

  3. I wish parents had the kind of control over government schools [that we are forced to fund] that they desire to have over private schools.

  4. The rational that gives this argument traction is the concept of “public monies” going somewhere powerful special interests disapprove. Isn’t this another argument to stop taking money away from families and making it “public money”? Should it be left with families. Are citizens not to be trusted to educate their kids with whatever teachers and content they want? Isn’t this another liberty that has been preempted by a misuse of government? .

    • Vermont Constitution – Article 9: “…previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evident to the Legislature to be of more service to community than the money would be if not collected.”

  5. I hope we’re keeping track of who came up and supports this. Then will come the next election, when they find out who they do not represent. I think the Vermont legislators will see a long overdue tidal wave. Either that or we may have to flush twice to erase all traces of their damage to the populace.

  6. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, ontop Equal Protection Clause.. they sound like they may be heading towards a lawsuit.. hey but what do i know they dont care about laws

  7. “I feel like we know that dollars are going to religious schools right now, and so we need to put some guard rails on that, and we need to protect the students and the staff,” he said.
    Protect the students and staff from exactly what Campion? Are you afraid that they might be subjected to some sort of normalcy or morality? Are you afraid that you won’t get the chance to thoroughly immerse and indoctrinate these children with your sexual deviancy and bogus CRT programs? Vermont has become such a disgrace!!!

  8. If this becomes law, then anyone whose children go to a private or parochial school should be exempt from paying local school taxes since they would have no vested interest in the public school system. Right?This is nothing more than an attempt to further entrench the “religion” of secular humanism in public education.

  9. Here come the teacher union special interest cronies as they continue to try to control education funding to line their own pockets.

    So much for ‘voting yes for the children’.

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