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 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 (2021–22)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (2021–22)
(K–8) Maximum Voucher Value (2021–22)
(9–12) Maximum Voucher Value (2021–22)
Maximum Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending (2021–22)
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.
(Last updated January 18, 2023)
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.
(Last updated January 18, 2023)
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. Less than 5 percent of Maine students are eligible to participate, the same percentage of students statewide actually do so. The maximum voucher size is about $10,500 for K–8 and $12,500 for high school, which is 78 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 prohibited families from choosing to attend religious schools. This discriminatory policy violated the First Amendment and is currently the subject of litigation per the Carson ruling.
(Last updated January 18, 2023)
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: $10,477 (K–8) / $12,480 (9–12)
- Testing Mandates: Conditional (State test)
- Meet the requirements for basic school approval
- 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
(Last updated January 18, 2023)
On January 7, 1980, Maine Attorney General Richard S. Cohen released an opinion in response to a question posed by State Senator Howard Trotzky, who asked whether the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, “allows individuals [students] in school administrative districts to attend privately operated religious schools at public expense?” Although students had attended religious and secular private schools through public funding since 1873, General Cohen opined that funding a child to attend a school with a “pervasively religious atmosphere” would be unconstitutional, and since it is not possible to examine each school to determine whether it is pervasively sectarian, children accessing Maine’s Town Tuitioning voucher program could no longer attend religious schools. Me. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 80-2 (Jan. 7, 1980).
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 April 23, 1999, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the exclusion of religious schools and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review. Since the mid-1980s, there have been many challenges regarding the exclusion of religious schools. Bagley v. Raymond School Department, 728 A.2d 127 (Me.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 947 (1999).
On May 27, 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the ruling of the lower court that religious school exclusion was constitutional. Strout v. Commissioner, Maine Department of Education, 178 F.3d 57 (1st Cir. 1999).
On October 22, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit disagreed with the lower court’s reasoning but agreed that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from Town Tuitioning did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Eulitt v. Maine Department of Education, 386 F.3d 344 (1st Cir. 2004).
On April 26, 2006, although in 2002 U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of vouchers with inclusion of religious schools in Cleveland, Maine’s Supreme Judicial court refused to overturn Maine’s 1981 law excluding religious schools from Town Tuitioning, stating the state was not compelled to offer direct or indirect tuition payments to sectarian schools. Anderson v. Town of Durham, 895 A.2d 944 (Me. 2006), cert. denied, 127 S.Ct. 661, 166 L.Ed.2d 512.
On July 1, 2008, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court expanded upon its 2006 ruling in Anderson (above) and held that the law excluding religious schools from Town Tuitioning also applied to municipalities that may consider offering a general fund subsidy for tuition at a sectarian school. Joyce v. State, 951 A.2d 69 (Me. 2008).
On October 21, 2018, multiple families filed a federal civil rights action against Maine for violating their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, by prohibiting them from choosing religious schools of their choice for their children using the state’s Town Tuitioning voucher funding. The U.S. District Court applied the Eulitt decision (see above) in ruling against parents on June 26, 2019. Carson v. Makin, 401 F.Supp.3d 207 (D. Me. 2019).
The decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and on October 29, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that Maine has a right to deny funding for a child’s tuition at a school where religion is part of the school instructional day. The Court distinguished this case from Espinoza (see “Montana” below) by opining that Espinoza involved a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, whereas allowing state funds to be used for education at a religious school using funds in part for religious activities and instruction would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. Carson v. Makin, 979 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 2020).
On July 2, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted appeal of Carson v. Makin on Writ of Certiorari from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The question presented to the Court was, “Does a state violate the Religion Clauses or Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious, or “sectarian,” instruction? This case began as an effort to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court Espinoza decision (see “Montana” below) prohibiting states from denying parents, using school choice funding, the right to use those funds at religious schools. When Maine rejected Espinoza, stating that religious schools were only excluded from their town tuitioning voucher program if the school used voucher funds for religious purposes or instruction, the state’s position was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which led to the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 21, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin held that it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution for a state to prohibit choice of a religious private school by a parent using school choice program funding. When a state prohibits a parent from using school choice program funding at a religious school, based on either, a) the status of the school as a religious school (as affirmed in Espinoza, see “Montana” below), or b) the school’s use of school choice funding from the parent for religious activity or instruction during an instructional day, the state has violated the parent’s First Amendment religious rights. Carson v. Makin, 596 U.S. (2022).
(Last updated January 5, 2023)