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Religious schools shun state funding despite Maine victory


PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Mother and father of kids enrolled in Maine spiritual faculties fought for years — all the best way to the U.S. Supreme Court docket — for the state to deal with tuition reimbursements the identical as different non-public faculties.

However solely one of many spiritual excessive faculties that stood to learn has signed as much as take part this fall, after Maine’s lawyer basic warned that the colleges must abide by state antidiscrimination legal guidelines, together with those who shield LGBTQ college students and school. That improvement has annoyed the households who sued.

“Their arms are tied. The state stated you’ll be able to take the cash, however we’ll tie your arms,” stated David Carson, whose daughter was a sophomore at Bangor Christian Faculties when his household and two different plaintiffs sued in 2018.

The Supreme Court docket dominated in June that Maine can’t exclude spiritual faculties from a program that provides tuition for personal schooling in rural cities the place there are not any public faculties.

Non secular excessive faculties with a identified stake within the tuition combat embrace two Roman Catholic-affiliated faculties, together with faculties in Bangor, Waterville and Houlton.

Final yr, 29 non-public faculties participated within the tuition reimbursement program, enrolling greater than 4,500 college students, officers stated. These faculties that meet the state’s standards can get about $12,000 per scholar in taxpayer funding.

To date, just one spiritual faculty has signed as much as take part, and that software will undergo a evaluate course of, stated Marcus Mrowka, a state schooling spokesperson. Mrowka declined to establish the varsity.

The deadline for functions is Thursday.

Michael Bindas is a senior lawyer on the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian legislation agency that represented the households who sued. He stated he’s not shocked the colleges are sluggish to determine whether or not to take part, due to the questions raised by the lawyer basic.

“These open questions, nonetheless, will likely be resolved in time, and we definitely anticipate spiritual faculties to take part,” he stated.

It’s extra possible that there will likely be a better affect within the 2023-24 faculty yr, stated Carroll Conley, govt director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, and a former Christian faculty headmaster.

“Individuals wish to see it taking place, however faculties are being cautious. It’s a giant change,” Conley stated.

There have been a number of lawsuits over time earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court docket’s 6-3 ruling earlier this yr, which was hailed as a victory for varsity alternative proponents — probably giving life to efforts in a number of the states that haven’t directed taxpayer cash to personal, spiritual schooling.

The Affiliation of Christian Faculties Worldwide, a Colorado-based group that promotes Christian schooling, stated the truth that 32 different states have already got a college alternative program speaks volumes.

“We hope that the 18 states that do not need faculty alternative packages will at some point have one,” the group stated in a press release.

In Maine, Legal professional Normal Aaron Frey criticized the Supreme Court docket ruling and stated all faculties that settle for public funds, together with spiritual faculties, should abide by the Maine Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the idea of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or incapacity. That may imply accepting homosexual and transgender lecturers and pupils, he stated.

Each Christian faculties related to the lawsuit — Temple Academy in Waterville and Bangor Christian Faculties — have insurance policies that discriminate in opposition to college students and employees on a foundation of sexual orientation or gender identification, he stated.

The Rev. Tom Brown, who’s senior pastor and president at Bangor Christian Faculties and an affiliated church, stated in an e mail that the “we’re processing” the lawyer basic’s statements. He confirmed that no college students will likely be getting state tuition reimbursement this fall.

Officers from Temple Academy didn’t return messages.

The Supreme Court docket ruling doesn’t have an effect on the Carson household as a result of their daughter already graduated from highschool, and is enrolled in faculty.

However David Carson, of Glenburn, stated it’s irritating to see the authorized victory muddied by the lawyer basic.

“It’s disappointing whenever you do all this and nothing occurs,” he stated. “It’s sort of a circus to me. The Supreme Court docket says one factor, however the state lawyer basic simply does what he needs to do.”


Comply with David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP

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