School choice lawsuit surge pushes possible high court fight

Vermont is facing at least its second lawsuit in four months over a voucher program that allows students in communities that do not have schools or are not part of supervisory unions to attend schools of their choice, including approved private facilities.
According to the Liberty Justice Center, a Chicago-based national not-for-profit law firm campaigning for school choice, the Vermont system of certain cities paying tuition fees for students to attend other schools is unconstitutional because it does not apply to all students of the state is available. If the lawsuit is successful, officials at the nonprofit say they will file legal lawsuits in other states with similar school election programs. However, critics say the lawsuit is a veiled attempt to bring a case to the US Supreme Court where Conservative justices hold six out of nine seats in an attempt to raise more public funding for private teaching, including religious schools.
The Vermont lawsuit comes six months after a divided US Supreme Court ruled in a Montana case that states cannot cut religious schools out of programs that send public funds to private education. Following that decision, three Vermont families filed lawsuits in federal court in September. They said it was unconstitutional to deny them state tuition fees to send their children to religious schools.
A similar lawsuit against Maine's exclusion of religious schools from a school fee voucher program has been denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the parents challenging the law and their attorneys have vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Another lawsuit was filed in New Hampshire.
Maine and New Hampshire have similar programs for students living in out-of-school communities to attend public or non-religious private schools of their choice.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Montana case, the federal appeals court issued an injunction on Friday to prevent Vermont from attending a religious school from attending college classes under the state's program for double Exclude enrollment.
In the recent Vermont lawsuit, lawyers for the four families suing the state and their school districts argue that the Vermont tuition system violates the Vermont Constitution, which "requires the state to provide equal educational opportunities for every school-age child in Vermont offer ”and this forbids the state from adopting policies that deprive children of them.
"The city education program is an exceptional perk for families, but it is fundamentally unfair to only offer it to some families, not all Vermonters," said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “The families we represent have difficulty paying for private schooling, and they have a serious need to benefit from the city's education system like parents in the state. ”
One family has a 15-year-old son in a wheelchair who, according to the complaint, needs assistance with basic activities such as eating and using the toilet. The district has school choices for 7th and 8th grades so it could attend the independent compass school where it succeeded, the lawsuit states. The school gave him his own bathroom, added wheelchair ramps and staff, and processed his food so he could eat at school, the complaint said.
The school treats him "as a welcome member of the school community rather than an imposition," the lawsuit said. But he's now in 9th grade and the district has a high school so no tuition fees are allocated to go to another school.
The school districts did not comment on the lawsuit and the Vermont Agency of Education said they did not comment on any pending litigation.
Kelsey also said that many families are grappling with online learning and learning pods amid the coronavirus pandemic, placing more emphasis on the need to provide parents with more choices than President Donald Trump and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos than Had provided solution to the parents' frustration.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the recent Vermont lawsuit was a "cynical attempt" to use the Montana case "as a tool to move even more public money into private hands."
“It's a Trojan horse that isn't meant to help parents or provide equal access to education, but rather to set a harmful precedent. It's about politics, not education - and that's why we're confident it's in the matter will fail, "she said in a written statement.
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