Public Education Funds Stay Public

 This year saw a number of contentious education bills move through the legislature as part of an education reform package pushed by Governor LePage. These bills would have allowed state funding for private religious schools and created an open enrollment program that would have drained funds from rural schools and created even greater inequality in Maine’s education system.

The open enrollment program, sometimes referred as ‘school choice’, would have allowed students to choose among public schools, including those outside of their district. This type of school choice is already practiced in some areas in Maine where communities do not operate a local public school. However, greatly increasing inter-public school transferring, as proposed in this legislation, would have created more problems than solutions.

Under the legislation, when a student decides to go to a school outside of their district, the funds for that child go with them. Unbridled open enrollment would increase the disparities in schools by diverting public funds from schools that are already cash-strapped and would make year-to-year funding even more unpredictable. 

MPA worked with allies at the Maine Education Association to pressure members of the Education Committee. Over 1,000 MPA members called their legislators to speak out against this legislation. Members also delivered 450 postcards to those same legislators. On lobby day, nine students from Hermon High School attended a committee hearing on school choice and two students were able to testify against the legislation. “Instead of pitting one school against another, or allowing for-profit schools to become wealthier by taking money from smaller schools that are already struggling to survive on the funding they have, we should all be willing to make sacrifices so that every school (and every community) can have the resources they need to be successful,” stated Nash Roy, Hermon High School senior.  In the end, the bill was tabled and never made it out of committee; a solid victory in a tough legislative year.

In addition to the divisive and unwise legislation put forth by the Governor, one positive piece of education legislation was also proposed this session and was actually passed. LD 1503, introduced by Sen. Justin Alfond, goes a long way to addressing the many disparities—especially racial—in Maine’s educational system, including on issues of school attendance and achievement. It ensures districts track the data necessary to determine where problems exist, and promotes policies to deal with disciplinary issues that focus on resolving problems in ways that most effectively keep students safe and learning.