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US Supreme Court: Religious schools cannot be excluded from Maine tuition program

The U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in Washington.
Jose Luis Magana
The U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Maine's exclusion of religious schools from a town tuitioning program is unconstitutional.

The ruling follows a 2018 legal challenge of a longstanding program in Maine that pays for students in towns without a high school to attend a public or private school of their own choice, excluding religious schools.

In a 6-3 opinion released Tuesday morning, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that a state doesn't have to fund private schools, "but once it does, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious."

Michael Bindas, an attorney with the Institute for Justice who represented the plaintiffs in the case, says it has major national implications. He expects a similar program in Vermont will be ruled unconstitutional, and he says the ruling also clearly states that the government cannot exclude religious schools from school choice programs moving forward.

"Those legal uncertainties are now put to rest. And they can confidently adopt school choice programs. And I'm confident that we are going to see a spate of school choice programs as a result of this opinion," he says.

On Tuesday's "Maine Calling," Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said that there's still an open question as to whether the parents who brought the challenge will now be able to send their children to a religious school. That's because none have applied for inclusion in the tuitioning program, which requires them to abide by antidiscrimination laws.

Frey says while the town tuitioning program only applies to a few thousand students, he's concerned that the ruling could potentially turn it into a broad voucher program that could force the state to reconsider how it administers public educational benefits.

"It very well may have to reconsider what kinds of agreements it makes with private schools. That is potentially on the table, given this decision," he says.

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Robbie grew up in New Hampshire, but has since written stories for radio stations from Washington, D.C., to a fishing village in Alaska. Robbie graduated from the University of Maryland and got his start in public radio at the Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Before arriving at Maine Public Radio, he worked in the Midwest, where he covered everything from beer to migrant labor for public radio station WMUK in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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