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Maine's "Town Tuitioning"
By David W. Kirkpatrick (December 04, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
Perhaps no institution shows less curiosity about its own field than the public schools. For example, defenders of the public system consistently oppose school choice but rarely show any knowledge that such programs have a long and successful history.
In the United States Vermont has publicly funded tuition programs since the 1840s. In 2007-8, 87 of the state's 243 towns paid tuition for 6,836 students to attend non-town schools, including private or out-of-state ones.
Maine has had a similar program since 1873, not quite as long as Vermont, but, still, for 135 years. Having a larger population, it has a larger program, 13,959 students in 2004-05.
The following description of Maine's program is from pp 30-31, The ABCs of School Choice, 2007-2008 edition, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Indianapolis, Indiana.
"Many small towns in Maine do not operate local high schools, and some do not operate local elementary schools. "Students in these towns are eligible for a voucher to attend public schools in other towns or non-religious private schools, even outside the state. The ‘sending' towns pay tuition directly to the ‘receiving' schools. While most towns allow parents to choose which schools will receive their students, some towns send all the students to one school. In 2003-04, 113 towns let parents decide where to send their children, while 33 towns contracted with one school..
Public schools in Maine have a ‘tuition rate' that sending towns must pay when their students are tuitioned at public schools. For private schools, sending towns provide a voucher good for up to Maine's average per-pupil cost for secondary education in the previous year, plus what is known as the Insured Value Factor, an additional payment intended to cover depreciation of private schools' buildings. Parents may supplement this voucher with their own money. In 2004, the Maximum Allowable Tuition Rate was $7,567, of which $687.90 was the Insured Value Factor. Sending towns have the option of increasing the voucher to as high as 115 percent of the maximum rate, but may not reduce the voucher below that rate.
In 2004-05, 13,959 students were tuitioned. Of these, 7,907 (57 percent) were tuitioned at public schools ands 6,052 (43 percent) at private schools. Of all tuitioned students, 11,263 (81 percent) are secondary students and 2,696 (19 percent) are elementary. Of all Maine private school students, 38 percent are tuitioned.
Students must live in Maine and reside in an identified sending town that does not have a public school at their grade level. In 2004-05 a total of 58 sending towns tuitioned all their elementary and secondary students, 89 towns tuitioned only their secondary students.
Participating schools must be non-religious and meet state standards for private schools The eligibility of out-of-state schools is judged on a case-by-case basis. Private schools with large numbers of tuitioned students are required to administer the state test.
In 1981, the Maine legislature banned religious schools from participating in the program under the mistaken belief that allowing religious options violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. In 1997, Maine parents and the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn this law as unconstitutional religious discrimination. In 1999, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the exclusion of religious schools. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review this decision. However, after the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of vouchers in Cleveland, the Institute for Justice and Maine families again asked a Maine court to overturn the 1981 law, but the exclusion of religious options was once again upheld..
A 2002 Friedman Foundation study by Christopher Hammons found that tuitioning introduces healthy competitive incentives that improve public schools:
- Public high schools closer to tuitioning towns had better test scores than other public high schools, controlling for school spending and student demographics.
- The effect is large enough that if a town a mile away from a school decided to tuition its students, we would expect the percentage of students passing the state test at that school to increase by 3.4 points–a gain of 12 percent over existing scores.
- If Maine wanted to purchase the same test score gains by increasing per-pupil spending, it would have to spend an extra $909 per student."
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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
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