S.219 of 2022

Wednesday afternoon, the House Education Committee reviewed S.219 from 2022. The bill would require schools who receive public tuition to comply with all state and federal anti-discrimination laws that are applicable to public schools and to avoid using public tuition to support religious instruction or worship. The bill then sought to clarify the gap left by the Chittenden v. Department of Education case where adequate safeguards to prevent tuition dollars from being used for religious instruction where not defined.

Under the bill, schools would only be eligible for public tuition if they implement policies to comply all anti-discrimination, public accommodations act, fair employment act, and made reasonable efforts to comply. The State Board of Education must sign a contract with the State Board of Education in order to be eligible to receive tuition that prohibits schools from using tuition funds for a religious use.

There were also some processes set out in the bill, for example, the State Board of Education (SBE) must maintain a list of approved schools able to receive tuition on their website. The SBE would be responsible for developing a processes to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints about compliance.

The bill also touched on the dual enrollment program, removing the requirement that a student be publicly funded in order to qualify, but it also imposed the same anti-discrimination policies that approved independent school is required to adhere to.

Schools in other states or countries must be located in states or provinces in bordering states except for therapeutic schools. Those schools must also comply with anti-discrimination polices that are applicable to public schools in their jurisdiction.

Legislative Counsel flagged the requirement to force anti-discrimination policies onto the independent schools as a potential risk from a constitutional challenge around the first amendment. Some of these laws may already apply to many schools through fair employment practices, etc. The sections of the bill dealing with prohibiting tuition from being used for religious instruction, this will be overturned under Carson v. Makin. Even though this may be a Vermont constitutional issue under the compelled support clause, the federal government has been clear on this front.

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