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Mar 27, 2014 02:25 PM EDT

Vermont To Pay For Public High School Students To Take College Courses, Rejects Funding For Those Enrolled In Religious Schools

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Vermont will pay for high school students to enroll in college courses - except for students who attend private and religious schools, Campus Reform reported.

Vermont's House of Representatives rejected on Tuesday a measure to provide public money for students in religious and private, nonreligious schools to participate in a dual enrollment program. The amendment was rejected with a 76-65 vote.

The dual enrollment program allows high school juniors and seniors to take up to two college courses for free with state and the school district sharing the cost, Campus Reform reported.

Members of the House who voted against the amendment said they did so out of concern that providing public funding to religious schools amounted to unconstitutional governmental support for religion, the Associated Press reported.

Rep. Johannah Leddy Donovan, D-Burlington, the chairwoman of the Education Committee, said that that issues over religious schools benefiting from public money "had not been vetted thoroughly enough in her committee for the measure to be approved," according to the AP.

Republican Rep. Carolyn Branagan, who introduced the amendment, said she wanted the amendment to mean that students who attend private and religious schools "are Vermonters and have equal access to that money as do kids in public schools."

Republican Rep. Robert Bouchard of Colchester said the amendment would level the playing field for parents who pay for their children to attend private or religious schools. He argued that parents of children who attend a religious school already pay for education twice; once when they pay property taxes and again when they pay tuition.

"This is a matter of fairness," Bouchard said, according to the Rutland Herald.

The state spends $1.1 million annually on the dual enrollment program which allows high school students to take some college courses.

Advocates of the program said it gives young people a jump on college and frequently encourages them to become the first generation of their families to attend college.

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