A federal appeals court has granted an injunction to stop Vermont from excluding some students who attend a religious school from participating in a state program while an appeal is pending, in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said states cannot cut religious schools from programs that send public money to private education.
“Appellants have a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claims,” the 2nd Circuit said in granting the motion on Wednesday.
Last year, the group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the Vermont Education Agency on behalf of a number of students from the Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington saying they wished to take college classes under the Vermont Dual Enrollment program, but were excluded because they attend a Catholic high school.
After U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss denied the students a preliminary injunction in June, they filed their notice of appeal with the 2nd Circuit.
In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, upheld a Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private schooling in which almost all the recipients attend religious schools.
John Bursch, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written statement on Thursday that states cannot discriminate against students based on which kind of school they attend.
“It makes no sense for the state to say it will pay for a student from a public or secular private school to take a college course at a public university, for example, but then say that a student from a faith-based private school cannot receive the same funding to attend that exact public university class,” he said. “That’s unconstitutional.”
The Diocese of Burlington said Thursday that it was pleased that the court’s injunction will allow those students to be able to participate in the dual enrollment program “which is intended to allow all Vermont high school students to advance their educational goals.”
A lawsuit by three families in Maine who want the state to pay for religious school tuition is pending in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the Vermont Education Agency, said the agency would comply with the court’s order and looks forward to the chance to present the merits of the state’s case later this fall.
Story by Lisa Rathke.