Vitale v. Bellows Falls Union High School

Vitale v. Bellows Falls Union High School, Vermont Supreme Court, Case No. 22-AP-059

Litigation: Challenging limited nature of Vermont’s town tuitioning where a child whose town provides public schools cannot access town tuitioning to attend a school of the parent’s choice. Opposed to limiting town tuitioning: Several parents and their children, including a child with multiple medical and physiological problems who has been treated like, “a nuisance not a child.” This is indicative of treatment afforded all children bringing this lawsuit. The children’s needs have been disregarded by their public schools, with severe mental and physical repercussions to the children. Notably, upon transfer to private schools, the children were treated with respect and the children thrived.

Outcomes: In their complaint, the plaintiffs asserted that, “providing the benefit of town tuitioning to students based on “the mere fortuity of their residence” and denying it to other students is patently unfair and violates the Common Benefits and Education clauses.” On February 2, 2022, the Superior Court granted the school districts’ motion to dismiss them from the lawsuit, on the grounds that a facial challenge to a statute is a challenge to legislative enactment of a law, which is beyond the authority of school districts. The court also dismissed plaintiffs’ claim regarding application of the state constitution’s education clause. The court ruled that a parent has no constitutional right to receive public funds to choose where a child is educated. The court also dismissed the common benefits claim. Whereas plaintiffs alleged that by allowing students in some towns to access schools of their choice and denying that right to other towns violates the constitution’s common benefit requirement, the court disagreed, ruling that the law applies equally to all towns – to choose their method of funding education. Vitale v. French, Superior Court, Orleans Unit, Civil Division Docket No. 215-12-20 Oscv

Why it Matters: Vermont enacted town tuitioning vouchers in 1869 and has continued this school choice opportunity since that time. Although local control of education was simple in those days, today’s involvement in and control of education funding by the state begs the question of why the state would allow any town to exclude educational opportunities for any child in any town. Parents in towns with their own public schools, which do not serve the interests of their children, should not be denied the right enjoyed by parents in neighboring towns where the towns do not have their own public schools.

Effects: Parents in Vermont refer to town tuitioning vouchers as “their choice.” After a program has been in operation for over 150 years, it is not hard to understand that modern names for the way the state funds education are irrelevant. Parents want “their choice” of education for their children. In Vermont, with 150 years of experience they know it works.