Choice bills would let students learn in best setting

AUGUSTA – Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen testified today in favor of the final two bills of Gov. Paul LePage’s education agenda, arguing that students and families across the state should have choices in finding the best school settings for their children. It’s a choice that families in some communities have, but in many others, do not.

The first of the two bills, LD 1854, would establish an open enrollment program, in which public schools – and some private schools already approved to accept public funds – would choose whether to become “schools of choice” and accept students from outside their district. Students and families could enroll their students in these “schools of choice” without needing permission from the school district in which they reside.

The school districts enrolling students from outside their boundaries would count those students in their official enrollment counts and receive the associated state subsidy. Schools of choice would not be able to “cherry-pick” students from other schools and districts; they would be required to take any students that apply or, if there is not sufficient room for them, conduct a lottery.

Bowen said LD 1854, An Act to Expand Educational Opportunities for Maine Students, is an effort to allow more students to learn in a setting that works best for them.

“We’ve had school choice in Maine for generations and thousands of students have school choice options now,” Bowen said. Some students live in “school choice” communities; others arrange for a superintendents’ agreement to transfer a student; and families with money can afford to move, or pay private school tuition.

“This is a way to provide school choice options to more students in a fairer, more manageable way,” Bowen said. “This is one step closer to providing a few more options for kids in the hope that one of them is going to be a great fit for that student. And, to put an end to the way that a student’s physical address determines the educational options to which they have access.”

The second bill, LD 1866, An Act to Remove Inequity in Student Access to Certain Schools, would remove the provision in state law that prohibits certain private, religious schools that meet rigorous academic standards from receiving public tuition dollars.

“Today, there are 28 private elementary and high schools in Maine that have been approved for the receipt of public tuition dollars, providing students and families with additional educational options,” Bowen said. “Passage of this bill would mean still more publicly funded options for students and families.”

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