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Maine is poised to fund tuition for students at some religious schools for the first time since a Supreme Court ruling in June ordered the state to treat those schools the same as other private schools.
Portland’s Jesuit college preparatory school, Chevaras High School, was the only religious school to apply to participate in the state’s tuition reimbursement plan and its application was approved by the state, a state official said Thursday.
Carol Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said she was encouraged by the first tuition reimbursement for a religious school in Maine since the 1980s.
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“We are hopeful and encouraged that (others) may be able to find a way to participate,” he said.
Cheverus, which is a Roman Catholic school but not controlled by the Diocese of Portland, was not immediately available for comment.
There have been several cases over the years since the state ended religious school tuition reimbursement before the Supreme Court ruled that Maine could not exclude religious schools from a program that offered tuition for private education in towns with no public high schools.
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision was the latest in a line of court rulings favoring religion-based discrimination claims. That could spur a new push for school choice programs in several states that have not yet directed taxpayer money toward private, religious education.
Despite the victory, religious schools are taking a cautious approach after Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said that all schools that receive government funding must comply with the Maine Human Rights Act.
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The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. This includes accepting gay and transgender teachers and students, which may conflict with the beliefs of some religious schools.
In the Maine case that led to the high court ruling, parents sued in federal court so they could use state aid to send their children to Christian schools in Bangor and Waterville. The two schools in question — Waterville Temple Academy and Bangor Christian School — have policies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Frey said.