In Maine, vouchers still illegal

Despite a US Supreme Court ruling that tuition vouchers are legal for parochial schools, the Maine Department of Education and local school districts should continue to enforce state law that forbids tuition payments to religious schools, according to Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe.

The Supreme Court said states may fund parochial schools, but it did not address the issue of whether they're required to do so, Mr. Rowe said in a letter last week to Education Commissioner Duke Albanese. Thus, the state law should be enforced unless the Maine Legislature or a court mandates otherwise, he wrote.

Richard Komer, who lost a similar case to the Supreme Court in 1999, was disappointed by the decision, because supporters of vouchers will likely have to file another lawsuit.

"It sounds like we're going to have to sue them again, which is time and money and energy spent on something that shouldn't be necessary," says Mr. Komer, senior counsel for the Institute for Justice.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer money should be allowed to underwrite tuition at private or parochial schools if parents retain a wide choice of where to send their children.

In Maine, nearly 17,000 students in small towns that don't have public schools receive public money to send their children to public and private schools elsewhere, according to the Maine Department of Education. But for 21 years, state law has prevented towns from paying tuition for religious schools.

Cynthia and Robert Bagley unsuccessfully challenged the law. The Bagleys wanted their town, Raymond, which does not have its own schools, to pay for tuition at Cheverus High School, a Roman Catholic school in Portland.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that barring communities from using public money for tuition at religious schools is constitutional, and in 1999 the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

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