Testimony opposing LD 1866 - religious tuition subsidy

15 March 2012

Senator Langley, Representative Richardson, Distinguished members of the Education Committee,

My name is Brian Hubbell and I'm a school board member from Bar Harbor. I'm testifying in opposition to LD 1866: An Act To Remove Inequity in Student Access to Certain Schools, on behalf of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System which comprises nine schools from the eight municipalities of Bar Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Swan's Island, Tremont, and Trenton.

At our regional meeting on Monday evening, our board voted unanimously to oppose this bill.

We remain most gravely concerned and disturbed by the proposal for unrestricted transfer of public funds from taxpayers to religious schools at a time when the state acknowledges that there are insufficient funds to fully support the present comprehensive system of public education in Maine. We object to this in principle and in no uncertain terms.

You will recall that last session we wrote publicly against similar legislation, submitting testimony against tuition subsidy by municipalities and against tuition tax credits. Our views on this remain unchanged.

Second, we are deeply concerned about the proposal to shift public funds from local schools to other districts outside of the oversight of the local taxpayers who remain obligated to bear the costs and responsibilities of maintaining a local school system, even after the state opts to distribute handouts to subgroups with special and parochial self-interests.

We see this as indicating a continuing erosion at the state level of commitment to the real challenges of maintaining a comprehensive, fair, and equitable system of public education for all Maine students.

We believe the first test in evaluating new state educational policy should be whether it improves or diminishes Maine’s capacity for providing a free and appropriate public education to all Maine’s children, irrespective of their means and advantages. On balance, we understand this initiative to weaken this overall capacity more than it strengthens it.