BANGOR – Maine is a rural state, with many towns that don’t have their own high school, but the current town tuitioning law got some attention in a Boston courtroom this week during an appeal.
“I believe that we’ve been discriminated against and I hope that the courts will see it our way,” said Alan Gillis, a plaintiff in the case, at an interview in Bangor.
Gillis and his Orrington family are one of three families fighting Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from the state’s high school tuition program.
On Wednesday the case was heard by judges on the U.S. Appeals Court for the First Circuit in Boston.
Gillis and his family are now waiting on a ruling.
Since 1980, for Maine towns without their own high school the state will pay to send kids to the public or private school of their parents’ choice, with the exception of religiously affiliated schools.
“When my daughter graduates from Bangor Christian at the end of this year, she’s a senior this year, she will receive a diploma and that will be recognized by the state of Maine,” said Gillis.
He said his daughter, Isabella, originally attended a public high school but switched because Bangor Christian is a better fit for her – a switch the family has to pay for.
“So the state of Maine agrees that Bangor Christian does a fine job educating our children but they just won’t pay for it…we’re doing it for future generations. We’re doing it because we believe that’s what’s right.”
The Institute for Justice, the law firm representing Gillis, argues Maine’s tuition program is unconstitutional based on First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
According to a spokesperson, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey agrees with a decision from a lower court that says the law is constitutional.
In a statement the attorney general said in part, “a public education system should be one that promotes diversity and tolerance and exposes children to a broad range of ideas […] parents certainly have the right to opt out of the public education system and send their children to religious schools, but public dollars should not be used for that purpose.”
Gillis said it costs $5,000 a year to send Isabella to Bangor Christian. But if she went to John Bapst Memorial High School, a private, but secular school in Bangor the state would be paying almost twice as much. A look on John Bapst’s website shows their tuition is close to $10,000.
“It’s actually a cheaper option for the taxpayers in the state of Maine,” said Gillis.
According to the office of Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, they’re confident the courts will uphold the tuition system.
Gillis said if the judges do, he believes an appeal could be filed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.