Chittenden, VT School Choice

Chittenden v. Vermont Department of Education
Institute for Justice and Chittenden Town School Board Challenged Vermont’s Exclusion of Religious Options from School Choice Program (IJ’s First Vermont School Choice Case)

For well over a century, Vermont’s “tuitioning” system has offered a sensible and popular solution for education in rural areas.  About half of Vermont towns participate, giving their residents the right to send their children to any school of their choice—public or private, in-state or out-of-state.  For about 90 years, that included the ability to select religious schools, something parents routinely did.  But since 1961, parents have been denied that choice.

That was when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that including religious schools violates the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.  The court reversed that ruling in 1994—theoretically restoring the right to select religious schools—and in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed when it upheld Cleveland’s voucher program.

But the Vermont Department of Education continued the policy, even threatening to eliminate state aid to the Chittenden Town school board because Chittenden wished to grant tuition to parents selecting religious schools.  Chittenden, represented by IJ, sued to overturn the policy.  In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the ban on religious schools—not under the federal Constitution, but under the Vermont Constitution’s “compelled support” clause.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: for Chittenden, Vermont School Choice

Client Photo - none available

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Latest Release: Release: Institute to Appeal Vermont School Choice Ruling (July 1, 1997)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

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Case Timeline

Lawsuit Filed:


August 29, 1996

Court Filed:


Rutland County Superior Court



June 27, 1997: Rutland County judge upheld exclusion of religious options from Vermont tuitioning system



June 11, 1999: Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state’s department of education may exclude from its tuition assistance program students who attend religious schools



Case Completed

Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

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