Motion filed in federal court seeks tuition aid for Vermont children in religious schools

Vermont

A faith-based law firm wants a federal court to allow four Vermont families to receive financial assistance under the state’s town tuition program to help pay for their children to attend religious schools.

A motion filed Tuesday by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of four Catholic high school students and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington asks the court to uphold a June decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that the firm says prohibits school districts’ from excluding religious schools from the tuition program.

Under the program, families in communities without a high school can receive financial assistance to attend another public or private school. However, for more than 20 years, the state has prohibited the funding for religious-affiliated schools.

The June ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals said the religious-school exception violates the U.S. Constitution. Paul Schmitt, legal counsel for ADF, sued and won an injunction allowing his clients to attend Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington.  

“Families that choose to use their benefit at religious schools deserve the same benefit that their neighbors get,” said Schmitt.

Schmitt is now asking the federal district court in Vermont to enforce the injunction and resolve the dispute once and for all.

“That’s what this motion is aimed at doing. It’s aimed at bringing a final resolution to this issue so that families don’t have to go back to court to get their rights and benefits respected,” said Schmitt.

Rice Memorial High School Principal Lisa Lorenz says the injunction has allowed nearly 20 families to send their children to the school. A majority commute from the Champlain Islands and northern Vermont, she said.

“Families are doing cartwheels and they’re just really excited that they get to have the choice,” said Lorenz.

Schmitt says a decision in about a month and is hoping to get the case resolved by the end of the year.

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