On March 30, 2022

Senate moves to restrict use of public money on religious schools

The v voted Wednesday, March 23, to advance legislation that would set limits on public money going to private and religious schools. The final vote on the bill, S.219, then passed Thursday, March 24. Now the measure moves to the House.

Vermont students living in “choice towns” — municipalities across the state that don’t operate schools at all grade levels — can use public tuition money to attend private schools.

Recent federal court rulings have affirmed that religious schools are eligible for that money, even though the state requires “adequate safeguards” against it going toward religious purposes.

The bill approved Wednesday aims to define “adequate safeguards” and to impose conditions on schools that receive that money.

“This committee believed it was essential, at this moment in time, with our abilities, representing our Vermont values — we would protect students,” said Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Committee on Education and sponsor

of the bill.

It would require private schools, often called independent schools, to follow all anti-discrimination laws that currently apply to public schools. And it would prohibit religious schools from using public tuition dollars “to support religious instruction, religious indoctrination, religious worship, or the propagation of religious views.”

The bill essentially gives the state Board of Education the authority to enforce those requirements. Per the bill, the board “shall establish and maintain a process to receive, investigate, and resolve allegations of noncompliance with these requirements.”

All private schools wishing to receive that public tuition money would have to enter into a contract with the board “agreeing to comply” with the law.

Provisions of the bill would also apply to dual enrollment students, who take some classes at universities or colleges. In those cases, the bill would impose similar restrictions on those institutes of higher education.

The bill also bars students from attending private schools in other states and countries, outside of Quebec and the states that border Vermont. But the legislation would make an exception for students with special needs who attend specialized independent schools.

In order to receive public tuition money, however, those schools would have to affirm that they followed “all antidiscrimination laws applicable to public schools in the state or country where the independent school is located.”

Those schools would also be required to enter into a contract with the Board of Education, and could also not use that money to support religious purposes.

The Senate Education Committee spent weeks hashing out the provisions of the bill. But on the Senate floor, it passed with little fanfare.

The only lawmaker to speak out against it was Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, who called for the state to stop sending public money to religious schools altogether.

“I’m finding it difficult to support this bill, because it further entangles our public school system and our public financing system with private and — more egregiously — religious schools,” Hardy said.

The state needs to find “a long-term solution that will not permit public money to be used for the support of private education or religious education,” Hardy said. “This is feasible within our system.”

But Campion said that, after days of testimony from legal experts, the education committee had decided that option was not feasible.

“The committee felt that we did not want to disrupt the educational landscape of our students,” he said.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Program to store carbon in forests grows in the Green Mountain State

June 19, 2024
By Cecilia Larson/Community News Service Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost. Forged by the American Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, a program that pays people to set aside forest to store carbon…

Two prescription drug bills aim to lower pharmaceutical prices

June 19, 2024
Governor Scott signed both into law By Peter D’Auria/VTDigger New legislation signed by Gov. Phil Scott May 30 will help patients afford prescription drugs, as rising pharmaceutical prices push up health care costs across the state.  As legislators scrambled to wrap up the legislative session earlier this month, they passed two bills that aim to reform…

Gov. Scott announces $1.7m in transportation fund grants 

June 19, 2024
Three projects in Windsor County are among the 11 to receive awards  Governor Phil Scott and the Vermont Downtown Development Board announced Monday, June 17, the allocation of $1,787,989 in Downtown Transportation Fund grants to support projects to improve safety, access, and transportation in 11 Vermont downtowns and villages across seven counties. “Revitalizing our downtowns is important…

Money available to protect against future flooding, no cost to towns

June 19, 2024
On Monday, June 3, Governor Scott and Vermont Emergency Management announced $90 million of federal funding is now available to Vermont municipalities to implement hazard mitigation measures that reduce future flood risk. These funds are available to all Vermont towns with no local match requirement. The federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides funds to…