Maine Court Hears School Choice Argument

Published May 1, 1998

On April 10, the Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice presented oral arguments in Portland, Maine, before Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Nancy Mills, challenging the exclusion of religious schools from Maine’s rural school choice “tuitioning” program. Although Maine towns without public schools routinely pay tuition for students to attend public or private schools, state law specifically excludes religious schools from the program.

In 1979-80, the last year that religious school tuitioning was allowed in Maine, 211 out of 17,928 tuitioned students attended religiously affiliated schools.

The Institute is representing five Maine families whose request for tuition to pay for their sons to attend Portland’s Cheverus High School was denied by the Town of Raymond because Cheverus is a Catholic school. The families allege that the prohibition against selecting a religious school for their children violates the U.S. and Maine Constitutions’ guarantees of the free exercise of religion and equal protection of the laws.

“Maine’s tuitioning system should operate just like Pell Grants, student loans, or the GI Bill–none of which exclude religious schools,” said Richard Komer, senior litigator for the Institute.

Institute for Justice Staff Attorney Nicole Garnett, who joined Komer in arguing the case, added, “The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that government cannot discriminate against people for engaging in religious activities.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].