Parents in the small towns of Vermont will no longer be excluded from a state tuition benefit if they decide to send their children to faith-based schools.
For more than 20 years, private religious schools were barred from the state's tuition benefit program, which would provide families with tuition money to attend the school of their choice if there were no public schools in the town.
In February, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented two high school students, their parents, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and filed a federal lawsuit against Vermont officials for discriminating against students and denying them a tuition benefit just because they attend a religious high school.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont ruled Thursday in favor of the students, parents, and Catholic school, stating that denying the tuition benefit for religious schools is "unconstitutional and unenforceable."
"This double victory allows families to choose the school that is best for their children while receiving the same public benefit as everyone else in their community," wrote ADF in an email statement to CBN News.
The decision comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the state of Maine cannot exclude students who attend religious schools from a government program in which they are otherwise qualified.
As CBN News reported, Maine had agreed to pay for students to attend schools – except for religious schools – in cases when they would have to commute long distances to reach the nearest public school.
SCOTUS ruled 6-3 that the Maine school tuition program discriminated against children at faith-based schools, declaring that the state "penalizes the free exercise" of religion.
"Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government. This is a great day for religious liberty in America," First Liberty President, CEO, and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said at the time.
The Vermont Agency of Education and several school districts agreed to settle lawsuits challenging the state's practice.
As part of the settlements, the plaintiff families who requested tuition but were denied will be reimbursed for the tuition they paid out-of-pocket.
Other families will have the opportunity to request reimbursement from the school districts if they have been denied it within the past two years.
"All parents should be able to send their kids to schools that are the best fit for them, and the First Amendment protects parents' right to choose religious schools," said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Schmitt. "For more than two decades, Vermont unlawfully excluded religious schools and their students from public benefits, essentially eliminating school choice for many parents in the state."
He added, "We are thankful the local school districts decided to do the right thing and give families the benefits they were entitled to. Many of these families made great sacrifices to provide their kids with a faith-based education and we hope even delayed benefits can provide some financial help."
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