Yesterday the Justice Department filed a “Statement of Interest” in support of families who are suing the state of Maine for the right to use public education funds for tuition at a religious school.

The Trump administration is throwing its weight behind three families who sued the state of Maine (Carson v. Makin) after they were told the state’s tuition voucher program could only be used at secular schools.

Last month the Justice Department made a similar filing in support of a group of Rice High School students who, earlier this year, sued the Vermont Department of Education for denying them access to the state’s dual enrollment program that allows high school kids to earn college credit at public expense.

The state policy is to explicitly exclude religious schools from over $1 million in annual state funding. That’s a violation of their civil rights, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs and the Trump administration.

“The State is penalizing parents for exercising their constitutionally protected right to choose a religious education for their children, and is discriminating against the faith-based schools they choose,” lawyers for the Rice students said.

We agree, and think these legal challenges are long overdue.

Two years ago the United States Supreme Court (Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer) ruled that it was unconstitutional to exclude religious schools from state funding under certain conditions. We imagine that the current High Court will eliminate all conditions when it gets the chance.

It’s too bad that state legislators don’t just do the right thing. Recall that in 2014 the Vermont House rejected an amendment to H.876 (Branagan) to specifically allow religious school students to take advantage of the program.

The measure failed 76-65. Detractors said their concern was that any form of public support for religious school students might pose constitutional problems.

We thought that was pure hogwash and flew in the face of the Brigham decision – requiring equal access to educational opportunities and equal funding for all Vermont students. It’s also a question of basic fairness and decency.

Unfortunately the state Department of Education is notoriously incompetent on those fronts.

The way we see it, the state discriminates against these kids in a cynical bow to public school hegemony. Why else would an education department, whose lone competency is wasting taxpayer money, go out of its way to deny educational opportunities to a tiny class of Vermont students?

We think these exclusions are nakedly partisan, mean-spirited and have virtually zero chance of surviving these long overdue legal challenges.

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