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.