Nonresident student transfer bill request

To: Speaker Eves, President Alfond, Distinguished Members of the Legislative Council,
From: Representative Brian Hubbell, Bar Harbor
Date: November 4, 2013
Re: Appeal of Legislative Council decision on LR 2478: An Act To Correct an Inconsistency in the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units

Policy Background

Last session, via LD 530, the Legislature amended the statute regarding school superintendents’ transfers of non-resident students. This change — which received a unanimous report from the Education Committee and was enacted under the hammer in the House and with unanimous roll call in the Senate — simply intended that superintendents document the reasons for their decisions regarding transfer requests in order to inform any subsequent process of appeals.

In our committee’s policy discussion, no one advocated altering the threshold for valid non-resident student transfers. Therefore the amended statute deliberately retains this permissive language: Two superintendents may approve the transfer of a student if the transfer is in the student’s best interest.

Inconsistent interpretation

However, following guidance from the Department of Education, apparently some are now reading the amended statute to require the approval of all transfer requests unless superintendents can explicitly prove that such a transfer is specifically not in the student’s best interest

This interpretation represents an inconsistency between the long-established permissive language in the statute which allows certain flexibility in non-resident transfers based on specific circumstance and this new, much more stringent interpretation — which essentially requires a non-resident transfer or else a problematic proof of a negative.

Consequence to taxpayers and community schools

Should this newer, inconsistent interpretation prevail, the result seems likely to weaken local support for community schools as resourceful parents increasingly request to transfer their students to schools funded by adjoining towns while tolerating inadequate local funding within their own tax jurisdictions. At the same time, receiving schools will face increasing burdens for the wholesale education of non-resident students at their own expense.

The longer term consequence is likely to be increased inequality of educational opportunity for Maine students rather than overall improvement. This issue is an immediate concern to most local school boards and their taxpayers.

Emergency request

So, in order for our policy committee properly to review and rectify this issue, I ask that the Council allow this bill request for the upcoming session.

Representative Brian Hubbell, House District 35:
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert