Vermont – Town Tuitioning Program
- Launched 1869
Vermont’s Town Tuitioning Program was launched in 1869, making it the oldest school choice program. The school voucher program provides educational options for students whose towns do not have public schools. The sending town pays school tuition directly to the “receiving” school, which can be any public or private, non-religious school in or outside Vermont. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility, regulations and legal history on this page.
We do not administer this program.
FTE Students Participating (2017–18)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Schools Participating (2017-18)
Average Voucher Value (projected 2020–21)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Vermont’s Town Tuitioning Program Participation
When students are tuitioned at public schools, the sending town pays the receiving school district an amount equal to the receiving district’s average per-pupil costs, as calculated by the Vermont Agency of Education. When students are tuitioned at private schools, the voucher is worth up to the average announced tuition for Vermont public schools, calculated each year by the state, or the private school’s tuition (whichever is less). That figure is calculated separately for grades K–6 and 7–12. For 2020–21, tuition amounts equal $14,859 for grades K–6 and $16,233 for grades 7–12.
Students must live in Vermont and reside in identified tuitioning town (i.e. towns that do not operate a public school at a given grade level range). Although most tuitioning towns allow parents to choose which schools will receive their students, some towns send all their students to one school.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Vermont’s town tuitioning program helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility is limited to students living in towns that do not operate public schools for student’s grade level, making it one of the most restrictive educational choice programs in the nation. Only 4 percent of Vermont students are eligible to participate and 3.7 percent of students statewide actually do so.
The average voucher size is about $15,500, which is about 73 percent of per-student spending at Vermont’s district schools, though the cap of the voucher size is somewhat higher ($14,859 for grades K–6 and $16,233 for grades 7–12).
In order to expand access to educational choice, Vermont policymakers should expand eligibility to all students. Additionally, although Vermont’s town tuitioning program mostly avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations, the program prohibits families from choosing to attend religious schools. This discriminatory policy violates the First Amendment and a similar policy in Maine is currently the subject of litigation.
Moreover, Act 46, which created a mechanism for school districts to consolidate, is having a negative effect on town tuitioning. When a tuitioning town consolidates with other towns, the right to continue tuitioning students to private schools is forfeited. Act 46 is subject to an active and ongoing debate in the state. Vermont students would be best served by preserving and expanding town tuitioning, a method of funding education that has been successful for more than 100 years.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
- Geographic Limit: District (without elementary or high school)
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: $14,859 (K–6) /$16,233 (7–12)
- Testing Mandates: None
- Must be non-sectarian
On December 21, 2020, Deborah Bucknam of Vermont and Liberty Justice Center filed litigation in Vermont Superior Court, Orleans Division at Newport, Vermont, alleging that Vermont’s town tuitioning program violates the state constitutional requirement that all children be afforded equal educational opportunity. Children in towns without schools may receive tuition to attend secular private schools, but children in other towns may only receive tuition to attend public schools. This unequal treatment on its face creates a discriminatory system based on the fortuity of a child’s residence. Plaintiff parents are asking the court to hold that town tuitioning must allow any child to receive tuition to attend public or private schools, including religious schools; that the constitutionally recognized common benefit of town tuitioning must be available to all children. Pending. Vitale v. State, Vermont Superior Court Orleans Division, Docket 215-12-200SCV.
On September 9, 2020, the Institute for Justice filed litigation in Vermont, seeking to have the courts recognize the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Dept of Revenue (see Montana), which would allow religious schools to participate in Vermont’s town tuitioning voucher program. Religious schools participated for the first 92 years of the program, but have been shut out for the past 60 years. Pending. Valente v. French, U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Case 2:20-cv-00135-cr.
On June 11, 1999, the Supreme Court of Vermont barred religious schools from participating in the state’s town tuitioning program, citing a violation of the Vermont state constitution’s compelled support clause. The nation’s first school choice program, enacted in 1869, has mainly been challenged regarding participation by religious schools. It has been an active school choice program for 150 years, albeit without benefit of religious school participation since 1961.
Chittenden Town School Dist. v. Dept. of Education, 738 A.2d 539 (Vt.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1066 (1999)
Vermont’s Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that including religious schools in the Town Tuitioning Program first established in 1869 violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Swart v. South Burlington Town School District, 167 A.2d 514 (Vt. 1961). In 1994, the Vermont Supreme Court overturned this decision, but the Vermont Department of Education refused to allow parents to choose religious schools. Campbell v. Manchester Board of School Directors, 641 A.2d 352 (Vt. 1994).
Vermont – Town Tuitioning Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
Some towns in Vermont lack public schools, so students in those towns may send their children to neighboring districts or private schools. Click to see the list of tuitioning towns in Vermont.