OPINIONS: Protecting a high quality and fully-funded public education system is vital


by Tom Waddell

The Supreme Court’s Casey vs. Makin decision all but forces Maine to fund private religious education. Now every state’s public school funding is under attack.

Bleeding public school budgets to fund alternative schools, such as private secular, religious, or for-profit charter schools, is often done through voucher programs that claim public taxes do not fund public school systems; they fund students, and the money follows the student to whichever school they choose.

Maine passed a bill last year requiring private schools that accept public funds to follow Maine’s Human Rights Act, the same human rights protocols that apply to Maine’s public schools. Those protocols ban harassment based on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability. Students with physical or learning disabilities must also be accorded the same learning environment as public schools. The bill initially included financial oversight of the annual $56 M taxpayer support Maine gives to private schools but was subsequently removed. Why?

Maine used to have financial oversight of the taxes it uses to fund private schools. However, requiring state-funded private schools to report how those funds were spent was removed from the Government Oversight Committee in 2011. Why would Maine not want to know how the $56 M it gives to private schools, or over half a billion in ten years, gets spent?

The Supreme Court ruled Maine, and every state must fund private religious instruction if they fund private non-religious education but that ruling only applies to states that exclude religious schools. Legislation is moving through Congress that will allow all for-profit charter schools nationwide to bleed every state’s public school budget through a voucher system and receive federal grants without reporting their finances.

When the federal Charter Schools Program proposed new rules that would prevent private, for-profit charter schools from receiving public grant money and require them to report their finances if they receive any public funds, the lobbyists for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools opposed those regulations.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools wants for-profit charter schools to get public grants and state taxpayer funds and not have to report how those funds get spent. This will leave each state with zero financial oversight of what state-funded charter schools do with public tax dollars.

This is the same as Maine having no financial oversight of private school funding extended to every state and every public school system in America. As a result, public school budgets everywhere will be cut, and the quality of public education across the nation will suffer.

Two congressional candidates and one gubernatorial candidate in the November election support a fully funded public education system. The other congressional and gubernatorial candidates support an unregulated private education system funded by taxpayer school vouchers.

Two congressional candidates and one gubernatorial candidate support financial oversight of private schools and the other candidates do not see the necessity for the Maine Government Oversight Committee to oversee the $56 million Maine currently gives away to private schools every year or over half a billion over ten years.

Your vote will help determine if Maine continues to fund private schools, thereby requiring Maine to fund private religious schools. Your vote will also determine if Maine controls how the half a billion it gives away to private schools over ten years gets spent.

I urge you to make your vote count to protect a high-quality and fully funded public education system that all of Maine’s parents and students expect and deserve. Parents, students, and school faculty are counting on you.


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