Dan French, Secretary of the Education Agency, speaks at a Covid-19 press conference in September 2021. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Vermont State Education Agency has reached final settlements in two lawsuits seeking to allow public funds to pay for religious school tuition.

A group of families sued the state in 2020, alleging that their children were discriminated against because they were denied public money to attend religious schools.

The lawsuits were largely resolved in June, after the US Supreme Court ruled that Maine’s public education program could not exclude religious schools. By September, the two Vermont sides had reached a settlement agreement.

State officials agreed to pay $95,000 in attorneys’ fees and issue a letter to the superintendents explaining that religious schools could not be excluded from public education payments.

But Christina Reese, a federal judge in Burlington, expressed concerns about some aspects of the two sides’ agreement. She said the proposed settlement would require her to sign legal conclusions with which she did not agree.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to espouse someone’s conclusions about the law in this way,” she said on a September conference call.

Reese signed an amended agreement in late October. Both sides agreed in a filing on Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit.

Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the education agency, said the settlement “allows tuition-paying school districts to move forward with clarity, with the understanding that they must pay tuition for all accredited charter schools regardless of religious affiliation.”

The Freedom Defense Coalition, a national Christian advocacy group representing parents, claimed victory after Wednesday’s filings.

“All parents should be able to send their children to the schools most appropriate for them, and the First Amendment protects parents’ right to choose religious schools,” Paul Schmidt, an attorney with the organization, said in a press release Thursday.

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