February 12, 2019

How Vermont Is Discriminating against Students at Religious Schools

Sarah Kramer

For many high school students and their parents, dual enrollment programs provide a great opportunity to get through college cheaper and faster.

Under Vermont’s dual enrollment program, students can take free college courses while in high school and receive both high school and college credit. This allows them to explore subjects they might be interested in pursuing in college. And it gives them the opportunity to prepare and even get ahead in their college course work.

With the rising cost of college tuition, this certainly feels like a win/win.

And it is… unless you’re a student who attends a religious private school.

You see, in Vermont only some students can take advantage of the dual enrollment program.

  • Students who attend a public high school? Check.
  • Students who attend a secular private school? Check.
  • Students who are home schooled? Check.
  • Students who attend a religious private school? Nope. Sorry. You can’t participate.

Every student should have an equal opportunity to pursue his or her educational goals. But the state law governing the program assumes that allowing students who attend religious schools to participate in the dual enrollment program would amount to a state “establishment of religion.” You’re kidding me, right? These claims are simply not true. Let’s take a look at them more closely.

False Claim 1: Students who attend religious high schools should not be allowed to participate in the dual enrollment program because the college classes are funded by taxpayer money.

The U.S. Supreme Court settled this in its 2017 Trinity Lutheran decision. Avoiding a government “establishment of religion” does not mean that the government can treat people of faith as second-class citizens. And it certainly cannot exclude them from generally available public benefits.

Yet, that is exactly what Vermont is doing with its dual enrollment program.

Students who attend a religious school, and whose parents pay taxes just like everyone else, should be allowed to participate in this program on the same terms as everyone else. Anything less is unconstitutional.

False Claim 2: It’s impossible to track how the schools spend the money, so it could be used for religious purposes.

There’s one major problem with this claim: That’s not how the program works. The state sends the money directly to the college where the student is attending, not the religious high school. So, it is unclear how this could be a concern.

As the program is currently, a student from a public school and a student from a religious school could attend the exact same college course, but only the public school student would receive funding for that course. That just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention it is completely unfair.

As the Supreme Court said in Trinity Lutheran, such discrimination on the part of the state is “odious to our Constitution… and cannot stand.”

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit challenging this program to secure equal treatment for students who attend religious schools.

We are simply asking that the state of Vermont treat students at religious high schools equally and give them the same opportunities as public school students. Our Constitution demands as much.


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