Town Tuitioning Program
- Launched 1873
Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program is the second oldest school choice program in the nation. The program, launched in 1873, allows students from a town without a public school to attend either a public school in another town or a non-religious private school. On this page, you can learn more about the program details, funding, eligibility, legal history and more.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (2020-2)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (2020-21)
(K–8) Maximum Voucher Value (2019–20)
(9–12) Maximum Voucher Value (2019–20)
Maximum Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program Participation
Sending towns pay tuition directly to the receiving schools. Public schools in Maine have a tuition rate that sending towns must pay when their students are tuitioned at public schools. For private schools, the tuition rate for elementary students may not exceed the average per-pupil cost on a statewide basis. For secondary pupils, the tuition rate is Maine’s average per-pupil cost for secondary education in the previous year, plus an additional payment intended to cover depreciation of private schools’ buildings. Parents may supplement that voucher with their own money. Voucher values vary from county to county based on current per-student funding levels. Sending towns have the option of adding on to the voucher up to an amount worth as much as 115 percent of the per-student funding in total, but may not reduce the voucher below the state’s tuition rates.
Students must live in Maine and reside in an identified sending town that does not have a public school at their grade level. Although most towns allow parents to choose which schools will receive their students, some towns send all their students to one school.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Maine’s town tuitioning program helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility is limited to students living in towns that do not operate public schools for student’s grade level, making it one of the most restrictive educational choice programs in the nation. Only 3 percent of Maine students are eligible to participate, the same percentage of students statewide actually do so. The maximum voucher size is about $9,500 for K–8 and $11,900 for high school, which is 73 percent of per-student spending at Maine’s district schools, though the amounts vary by county.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Maine policymakers should expand eligibility to all students. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Additionally, although Maine’s town tuitioning program mostly avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations, the program prohibits families from choosing to attend religious schools. This discriminatory policy violates the First Amendment and is currently the subject of litigation.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
- Geographic Limit: District (without elementary or high school)
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: $9,526 (K–8) / $11,948 (9–12)
- Testing Mandates: Conditional (State)
- Meet the requirements for basic school approval
- Be nonsectarian
- Comply with reporting and auditing requirements
- Participate in the statewide assessment program if enrolling 60 percent or more students under the Town Tuitioning Program
- Release copies of all student records for students transferring from the private school to the school unit, upon the request of a school unit
- Report annually to the commissioner any information they may require
On June 14, 1993, the Maine Supreme Court upheld the home rule authority of towns over school budgets (impacting town tuitioning), holding that municipalities maintain some authority over education policy. School Committee of York v. York, 626 A.2d 935 (Me. 1993)
On June 26, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine rejected plaintiff parents’ claim that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from their town tuitioning program, a generally available public benefit program, violates the Free Exercise, Establishment, Free Speech, Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Carson v Hasson, Jr, Case 1:18-cv-00327-DBH, ORDER (Jun 26, 2019)
This case originated in light of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017). On August 21, 2018, the Institute for Justice and First Liberty Institute filed this litigation on behalf of parents in Maine who continue to seek religious liberty in their choice of education. They appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Dept of Revenue that religious schools cannot be excluded from school choice programs, supplemental evidence was submitted to the First Circuit Court of Appeals asking the Court to honor the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the state of Maine objected, and on October 29, 2020, the First Circuit agreed and upheld the lower court ruling. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is planned for early 2021. Carson v. Makin, Docket No. 19-1746 (2020)
Although town tuitioning is constitutional in Maine, there have been many challenges regarding the exclusion of religious schools. In 1981, the Maine legislature banned religious schools from participating in the Town Tuitioning Program that was first established in 1873. In 1999, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the exclusion of religious schools and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review. Bagley v. Raymond School Department, 728 A.2d 127 (Me.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 947 (1999). Religious school exclusion was also upheld in Strout v. Commissioner, Maine Department of Education, 178 F.3d 57 (1st Cir. 1999), and in Eulitt v. Maine Department of Education, 386 F.3d 344 (1st Cir. 2004).
After the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of vouchers in Cleveland, the Institute for Justice, representing Maine families, asked a Maine court to overturn the 1981 law, but the exclusion of religious options was upheld. Anderson v. Town of Durham, 895 A.2d 944 (Me. 2006), cert. denied, 127 S.Ct. 661, 166 L.Ed.2d 512. Religious exclusion was later upheld in Joyce v. State, 951 A.2d 69 (Me. 2008).
Town Tuitioning Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
We don’t yet know of any Maine-based organizations that are fighting for more educational choice opportunities. If you know of one you’d like to submit to our team, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.