Framework for evaluating LD 1854 "open enrollment" bill

March 18, 2012,

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

As followup to my testimony on Thursday, at Representative Richardson's request here below is a summary of the framework that I recommended for use in evaluating the policy components of LD 1854 during your work session on March 22.

Brian Hubbell,
Mount Desert Island Regional School System

1) Benefit vs. harm to the overall capacity of Maine public education:

On one hand, advocates for greater school choice see public education as an individual's entitlement to taxpayer subsidy. On the other hand, Maine retains an obligation to maintain a comprehensive infrastructure that provides equal educational opportunities for all Maine students.

  • Critical question: To what extent does the policy's elevation of individual entitlement diminish comprehensive equitable opportunity?

2) Quantifying the entitlement that should "follow the student"

In discussions about the public funds to which each student might be individually entitled, the figures can be argued three very different ways.

First, there's a school district's per-pupil cost which is an abstract figure related only to the aggregated expenditures, many of them fixed, divided by the number of students.

Second, there's the proportion of an individual family's property tax bill that supports the local public school. This share, of course, varies by home value and tax rate. But always it will be substantially lower than the district's per-pupil cost because the total cost of educating each student is subsidized by many neighbors and businesses.

Third, there's the school's marginal cost of educating or not educating one additional (or one fewer) student. This figure is likely to be one or two orders of magnitude smaller than the district's overall per-pupil cost.

  • Critical question: Does the proposed policy fairly represent an individual student's entitlement to public funding?

3) Corresponding local authority and oversight to local funding

On average, more than half of Maine public education is now funded through local property taxes. School districts which are minimum receivers of state aid pay for their schools almost entirely with local funds.

  • Critical questions: What mandates does the policy place on expenditure of this local share? How does the policy allow for authority of local voters over the expenditure of these funds?