Testimony: Opposing Attempts to Undermine School Choice (LD 100)


Testimony in Opposition to LD 100, “An Act to Require an Annual Financial Audit
of a Private School Approved for Tuition Purposes”

Senator Rafferty, Representative Brennan, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a free market think tank, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on LD 100

Town-tuitioning,” first adopted in 1873, occurs when a town does not operate a secondary school, and does not opt to contract 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 utilized by little more than 2% of Maine K-12 students. It is a safety net for those without access to a local school, to find an educational option that works for them.

After the landmark ruling in Carson v. Makin, the United States Supreme Court said that the state of Maine may no longer discriminate against schools which are sectarian within town tuitioning solely because of their religious status. Following that ruling, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey issued a warning to sectarian private schools which may be considering submitting for approval that they would be subject to additional restrictions in the Maine Human Rights Act regarding receipt of public funding. 

Sadly, this threat was successful; only one school—Cheverus High School in Portland—applied, and was approved to accept town-tuitioning funds. Based on Maine Policy Institute’s attempt to account for the policies of every municipality, we found that the nearest students who could be “tuitioned” to Cheverus are in Raymond; beyond that, they reside in the Midcoast—an hour or longer drive away.

LD 100 would require private schools 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 already adopt rules governing “tuition charges, accounting, audits, contracts and other aspects of schooling privileges arranged between a private school and school administrative units.”

One would think that, if the DOE saw a problem with the accountability of these schools, many more audits would have been ordered. Is this bill just a solution in search of a problem?

Given existing state oversight of private schools approved for town-tuitioning, this bill appears to be more likely an attempt to limit families from choosing a school that works for them, even under approval from their municipality. Passing this bill would be a clear end-around of the US Supreme Court, allowing the state to continue to discriminate against rural families’ school choice and weaken home rule in the process.

This Legislature should quickly dispense with this bill, and instead remove the requirement that a private school be approved by the state in order to receive town tuition funds at all. If a family chooses a school, and the local community approves the tuition, the state should not stand in the way.

Please deem LD 100 “Ought Not To Pass” and reject this brazen attempt to wield state power as a cudgel against rural Maine students who seek a better education. Thank you for your time and consideration.