School Choice working for Alna, therefore must be stopped.

School Choice working for Alna, therefore must be stopped.

January 27, 2010 Posted by Maine Heritage Policy Center - No Comments

When school district consolidation was passed, we were assured that “opportunities for choice of schools” would be preserved. We know already that school choice has been lost in a number of Maine towns and now it is under threat in Alna.

Our secret sources out there have forwarded to us the following email, which was sent to the chairs of the Education Committee:

Dear
Senator Alfond and Representative Sutherland:

 

I am
writing on behalf of the Town of Alna to request that the Education Committee
consider a minor modification to the school consolidation statute. 
According to staff at the Maine School Management Association, the amendment I
propose probably only has significant impact for the Towns of Alna and
Westport.

 

Background:

Neither
Alna nor Westport have public schools.  Before consolidation, our towns
contracted with the Wiscasset schools under terms that allowed us to either
send our children to the Wiscasset schools for K-8, or tuition them to other
schools of the parents’ choosing.  It was a rather one-sided contract that
favored Alna and there was no fiscal impact on our town because we would not
pay per student more than our contracted tuition amount with Wiscasset.

 

However,
we are now a member of RSU 12 and the RSU is obligated, by statute, to pay the
out-of-district tuition costs for Alna students — some $232,000 for K-8 this
year.  Because of the relatively fixed costs of running an RSU, this
payment for out of RSU students reduces the operating revenue for the
RSU.  This loss is made up through an increased assessment on all RSU
towns.  Because Alna now is part of a school unit, this has a direct
fiscal impact on us — some $18,000 this year in increased costs.

 

Proposal:

Many
of our residents would now like to revisit our choice policy, but DOE has
interpreted the statute to mean that the guarantee of choice going to
consolidation is binding — apparently in perpetuity — on all parties. 
This means a policy we adopted as a no-cost option for our citizens is now
binding, regardless of the fiscal impact on our taxpayers as well as those
communities within the RSU.

 

We
wish to amend the law to simply allow towns to reconsider, by vote of town
meeting, whether they wish to continue a choice policy for their town
students.  We wish to limit the amendment to K-8 students so as to cause
no impact on existing law with regard to the public academies.  If towns
wish to continue choice and pay the additional costs, they will be at least
allowed to renew that choice affirmatively, knowing the financial impact.

 

This
issue takes on particular urgency because we have considerable anecdotal
evidence that families are moving to Alna, and perhaps Westport, simply to
avail themselves of our “open checkbook”.   A considerable
number of Alna children now go to private Montessori and other schools in the
area at RSU taxpayer expense. Realtors advertise this as an advantage to
purchasing a home in Alna, so this unintended burden on Alna and the RSU is
likely to grow.

 

We
believe the current language was unintended. We do no believe the legislature
intended to lock towns into increased costs, or to deprive RSUs of much needed
revenue.

 

This
proposal is endorsed by the Alna Board of Selectmen and one of our two RSU
board members. (I simply have not reached our second member.)

 

Thank
you for your consideration.  I have attached my non-expert attempt at a
drafting fix.

 

Best
Wishes,

 

Doug
Baston

So let’s think for a moment about what is going on here. The town of Alna has school choice.  Realtors, unlike the gentleman writing the letter, understand that this is a good thing for Alna.  It makes the town a more attractive place to live, which has led to an influx of young families. (How many towns in Maine would kill for an influx of young families? How many would consider such an influx to be a problem?)

The problem, as the letter writer sees it, is that the young families living there and moving in are making the wrong choices with their school choice rights.  They are – GASP! – attending Montessori schools at taxpayer expense. Why?  Because families in Alna, like all consumers, have weighed the choices before them and picked the one that best meets their needs.

 

In the world of the free market, the choices these families are making would send a signal to competitors, in this case the other schools, that they need to improve their product.  Ideally, these other schools would do whatever it took to provide a product these families want in order to win them back.  That way, all schools are getting better all the time – this is the beauty of competition.

Public education, though, is a monopoly.  The solution to the problem of having families choose a school other than the government school is simple – take away their right to choose.  That is what has happened in the Bath area, in Pownal and Durham, and in other towns around Maine, and that is what this gentleman seems to want.  Taxpayers outnumber parents, so you put choice out to a vote, parents and children lose, and Alna then gets to send another $18,000 to RSU 12 to support schools that parents in Alna, given a choice, don’t want their children to attend.

Monopolies are bad, but government monopolies are far worse.  Time for parents and school choice supporters to mobilize.  The education establishment has taken school choice away from parents in towns all over Maine, and they are coming for Alna next…