School choice group explores options for students

AUGUSTA – A legislatively created group met for the first time Monday and started work on a publicly funded school choice model that would allow for students to attend public school in districts other than their own.

The group was an outgrowth of legislation proposed by Gov. Paul LePage earlier this year that would allow for students to attend public school in districts other than the one in which they live. The Legislature side-stepped that issue by creating the stakeholder group – made up of representation from principal, superintendent, school board and teacher groups, as well as others appointed by the Governor.

“The public policy goal is to have some opportunities for kids, for whatever reason,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “The town line isn’t necessarily this immovable object that should prevent you from accessing an educational opportunity in a district outside yours.”

The group is responsible for developing a model that will allow for public school choice, while addressing important aspects such as: funding, educating low-income students and those requiring special services, and transportation.

During the meeting, the group largely reviewed the three Maine state statutes currently in place that center on school choice – one of which is the superintendents agreement. This statute enables superintendents to approve the transfer of a student from one school administrative unit to another, and the education commissioner reviews appeals from parents, taking into consideration the best interest or need of the student.

“Who determines the need?” asked committee member Timothy Walton, director of external affairs and public policy at CIANBRO. “Where does the need rest first – the student or the community?”

“We felt we had a good proposal last legislative session,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “But we are pleased with the establishment of a group that is charged with presenting a model for how we can make this work. We need to give every kid a chance at an excellent and right-fit education.”

The group plans to meet again Oct. 1 to continue the work and start developing the model. The group is charged with reporting its findings by mid-January to the Legislature’s Education Committee, which  is authorized to introduce a bill based on the report.

David Connerty-Marin | Maine Department of Education | 207-624-6880

2 responses to “School choice group explores options for students

  1. Richard C. Larson

    Note that many K-12 students throughout Maine already have school choice whereby the students in a given municipality are tuition to either a K-8 and/or 9-12 schools. This allows the town where the student resides to receive State subsidy and the tuitioning town needs to pay the full tuition rate allowed. However the same situation in not true with supt. agreements since the town where the student resides does not receive State subsidy and the school who receives the tuition students does not receive the full tuition rate, only the amount of school subsidy since the students are treated as resident students.

    It seems that the school subsidy should be treated the same for all Maine students and go to the town where the student resides and the tuition to the receiving school should be for the full amount allowed.

    With the above approach school choice for all Maine K-12 students would be treated in more of an equity manner.

    Richard Larson
    Retired accounting and economics instructor
    Machias, ME

    • Mr. Larson, thanks for your comments. It seems somewhat counterintuitive, but in most cases, a school district that accepts a student through a superintendents agreement does receive the full tuition rate for that student. That’s because in almost all districts, the communities have already raised their “state minimum expectation” and the state kicks in the rest. So, even though School District A may be a “30 percent receiver” – that is, the state only contributes 30 percent because the town has more property value than others – if the town has already met its obligation, the state is going to kick in the full $8,500 +/- for the additional student. Same as if the town had one more resident student. The town’s “ability to pay” does not change whether it has 500 students or 501 students.

      It is true that most districts spend more than the state Essential Programs and Services amount, but also keep in mind that the marginal cost of an extra student or two is far less than the full tuition rate. The school will not be hiring extra teachers or custodial staff or using more electricity for one extra student, though there are, of course, some additional costs.

      The real financial issue for superintendent agreements is not for the receiving school, but for the sending school, because the reverse scenario is true. While in theory a school will save money by educating one less student, in reality it’s not going to lay off a teacher or custodian or use less electricity. In the end, of course, we hope it all balances out, and luckily, most superintendents understand that no matter how good their schools are, there are times when they are not the right fit for all students, or other circumstances might make a nearby school district a better choices for a student. We have over 1,500 superintendent agreements each year arranged by mutual agreement of superintendents.

      There are a handful of schools – so-called “minimum special education receivers” for whom the finances work differently. But in most cases, it is as I described above. This is why you rarely hear superintendents or school boards wishing they had fewer students. They all want more – both their own residents and students from other communities.

      David Connerty-Marin
      Director of Communications
      Maine Department of Education

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