Bills to Watch: Mandatory Audits for Private Schools Accepting School Choice Students (LD 100)
LD 100, “An Act to Require an Annual Financial Audit of a Private School Approved for Tuition Purposes,” sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Millett (R-Cape Elizabeth) would subject private schools who accept town tuitioning funds to conduct an annual audit and submit it to the State Auditor.
Town tuitioning, first adopted in 1873, occurs when a town does not operate a secondary school, and does not take the option of contracting with a different public or private school to educate its resident students. Instead, the town elects to send tuition payments on behalf of its students to the institution of that student’s choice. Today, this option is available to little more than 2% of Maine K-12 students.
LD 100 would require a private school approved to accept town tuition funds to conduct an audit every year “that demonstrates that the books, accounts, financial documents and reports of the school are in a satisfactory and accurate condition.”
The bill would also allow the Maine Department of Education (DOE) to hand down “routine technical” rules—which do not require legislative approval—to enforce the requirement.
Today, these private schools are already subject to report any information the DOE Commissioner may require; the Commissioner may also adopt rules governing “tuition charges, accounting, audits, contracts and other aspects of schooling privileges arranged between a private school and school administrative units.”
Given existing state oversight of town tuition-approved private schools, this bill looks to be an attempt to make it more difficult for more private schools to seek approval to accept town-tuitioned students.
After the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Carson v. Makin, the state of Maine may no longer discriminate against schools which are sectarian solely based on their religious status in its town tuitioning program. Following that ruling, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, a former colleague of Rep. Millett in the Democratic legislative caucus, issued a warning to sectarian private schools who may be pondering whether to submit for approval that they would be subject to additional restrictions in the Maine Human Rights Act regarding receipt of public funding.
LD 100, as well as AG Frey’s statements following Carson, are thinly-veiled attempts to wield state power as a cudgel to prevent more rural Maine students from seeking high-performing schools.