Court Ruling Energizes Vermont School Choice Supporters

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(Host) Supporters of school choice in Vermont are hailing a new U.S. Supreme Court decision that upholds the use of vouchers for religious schools in Cleveland.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When lawmakers debated a school choice bill in the Vermont House this past session, opponents of the plan argued that passage of the legislation could ultimately lead to the use of state tax money at religious schools ¿ a concept they said would be unconstitutional. A public school choice bill did pass the House but it died in the Senate Education Committee.

Now in a key education decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutional to use state tax dollars to support vouchers at religious schools, as long as parents have an opportunity to use the vouchers at non-religious schools.

Jeff Wennberg, who is president of Vermonters for Educational Choice, says the new ruling will energize efforts to pass a school choice bill in Vermont next winter:

(Wennberg) “So this is very, very good news. It’s affirmation. It should put to rest an awful lot of debate that has swirled around this whole voucher issue and now maybe we can move on with discussion of what kinds of programs that follow the Supreme Court’s guidance might work best to meet the needs of low income and moderate income families in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this issue, Wennberg says supporters of full school choice in Vermont still face some important obstacles. This is because the Vermont Supreme Court has reached a different conclusion about the use of vouchers for religious schools using the state constitution as its guide:

(Wennberg) “In Vermont, it may take a little bit longer but certainly I can’t imagine that Vermonters would tolerate the notion that low income families everywhere else in this nation would have access to these kinds of educational choices and opportunities, but that Vermont’s low income families would be denied that access.”

(Kinzel) Wennberg says he is optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will result in the passage of a school choice bill in Vermont next year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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