Bill Would Allow Public Funding for Religious Schools 

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee room was packed on Thursday with those interested in a bill that would make changes to how Maine funds education. The bill would remove language in the existing laws that prohibits state funding for religious institutions. It’s called “An Act to Remove Inequity in Student Access to Certain Schools.””If a student is going to get a great education that means something to them at a certain school, are we not going to support that school on certain grounds?,” said Education Commissioner Steve Bowen, who spoke in favor of the bill. Bowen said the state already funds 28 private schools, most of which are town academies. This law would add religious schools that meet certain statutes to that amount.But Chris Galgay, the President of the Maine Education Association, said the government should be focusing on public schools.He said, “I’m looking for this governor, this commissioner to come up with a plan about how they’re going to improve public education in the state because that’s the state’s obligation, that’s putting students first.”Bowen’s argument is that a private or religious school might be the best option for a student. “We see funding going with the student to where the best educational setting for the student is,” said Bowen. But some are worried that would mean less funding for public schools, when school systems are already struggling with small budgets. Superintendent of Portland Public Schools James Morse said it would cost the city schools $7 million, according to his calculations. “I would argue that it could be more devastating to rural Maine. If it creates a financial crisis in Portland, it could shut down schools in rural Maine,” said Morse. After hearing testimony from both sides, it will be up to lawmakers at the bill’s work session to decide what is in the best interest of Maine’s students.