Another View: Throwing kids under the bus

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Last week a group of students from Rice High School in South Burlington 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.

"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 this challenge is long overdue.

We also would remind readers that legislators blew the opportunity to do the right thing in 2014 when the Vermont House rejected an amendment to H.876 (Branagan) to specifically allow religious school students to take advantage of the program.

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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 think that's pure hogwash and flies 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 it's nakedly partisan, mean-spirited and has virtually zero chance of surviving this long overdue legal challenge.

— The Caledonian Record (St. Johnsbury), Feb. 7


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