K-12 public schools in Maine enroll almost 193,000 students, with 37% in poverty, 2% learning English, 6% minorities, and annual expenditures of more than $2.3 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In Maine’s only education finance litigation, a 1995 equal protection challenge, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the state school funding system, concluding that the constitution does not require equal funding. The court left open the possibility that a constitutional violation might be found if future plaintiffs allege that the funding system results in students receiving an inadequate education.
There have been no recent developments in educational opportunity litigation in Maine.
In Sch. Admin. Dist. No. 1 v. Comm’r, the plaintiffs—school districts and students—challenged on state equal protection grounds an amendment to the state’s school finance law that caused reductions in local district funding. 659 A.2d 854 (1995). The trial court applied the rational basis test and upheld the funding reductions, and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed. The court declined to address whether education is a fundamental right under the Maine Constitution, concluding that he plaintiffs' argument failed even if education was a fundamental right, because they presented no evidence that any disparities in funding caused students to receive an inadequate education. Instead, the court found, plaintiffs merely challenged "the method by which funding reductions were implemented."
“A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools.” Me. Const. art. 8, Pt. 1, § 1.
In Sch. Admin. Dist. No. 1 v. Comm’r, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court stated that, under the Maine constitution, “the level of state support is largely a matter for the Legislature.”
Maine funds a Public Preschool Program that provides services to 4-year-olds in the public schools. The program is rated 6 out of 10 on the established quality indicators and serves 25% of 4 year-olds, a 6- percentage point increase from the 2008-2009 school year.
Maine has operated the Public Preschool Program for over twenty-five years. Under state statute, the state board of education is charged with "promot[ing] services for preschool children;" School districts are encouraged to emphasize instruction and curriculum for children ages 4 to 9.
School districts are not required to offer pre-K programs, and are only partially reimbursed by the state, so not every district participates. School districts are asked to coordinate with other early childhood programs in the community to maximize resources, and schools may subcontract with community providers or send district teachers to community sites.
There are no statewide eligibility criteria, other than age for the program, but districts may choose to limit local enrollment to a targeted population.
Some districts provide a full-school day, 5-day program; some provide a part-day program and operate four half days with the fifth day used for home visits and teacher planning, and some offer the program within a longer child care day. Where offered, the pre-K program must meet a minimum of 2 ½ hours per day for 175 days.
The Public Preschool Program is funded out of Title I funds, ARRA funds, and the general educational allocation for essential programs and services (EPS). Early childhood programs for kindergarten through Grade 2, including the pre-K program, receive additional targeted aid by having the per-pupil weight increased.
There is a local contribution required to the overall per pupil allocation. Districts are eligible to receive a full per-pupil subsidy when a minimum of 10 hours a week of programming is offered.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Maine served 19% of all 4-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2009-2010.
Maine reached only 6 out 10 benchmarks for 2009-2010.
The 6 benchmarks reached were:
- Early Learning Standards
- Teacher must have Bachelor’s degree
- Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
- Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
- Teacher in-service (at least 15 hours/year)
- Screening/referral and support services
The 4 benchmarks not met were:
- Class size limits of 20 students
- Class ratio of 1:10 or better
- Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
- Monitoring/Site visit program.
Schools participating in the Public Preschool Program must participate in a local assessment system that measures school progress in achieving the state’s new preschool curriculum content standards.