What does the recent Supreme Court decision mean?
In Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court held that Maine could not exclude sectarian schools from approval for the receipt of public funds for tuition purposes because they are sectarian. In other words, a sectarian school that meets all of the other requirements for approval for the receipt of public funds for tuition purposes must be approved in the same manner as a non-sectarian school.
Schools who meet the requirements for school approval for tuition purposes are then eligible to receive state and local tax dollars from the school administrative units (SAUs) who do not operate a school to serve certain grade levels and either contract with specific schools or allow choice of schools to meet their responsibility for providing a public education for resident students.
This decision applies only to those SAUs that do not operate local public schools at a certain grade level span and do not have contract in place with nearby public or private schools.
For example, if your SAU does not have a high school, the SAU where the student resides still raises funds from local property taxes and receives state tax dollars to support resident students and uses those funds to pay tuition at selected public or approved private schools.
Delivering Public Education in Maine
Article 8 of the Maine Constitution requires all towns to support schools in order to ensure the "general diffusion of the advantages of education.” Today, the State of Maine contributes 55% of the total statewide cost of education and local communities must raise funds for the remaining costs. Some communities vote to provide more than their required local share in order to invest in special additional programs and services or new/upgraded facilities.
There are currently three different ways for local communities to deliver public education to their students: use tax dollars to operate local schools; use tax dollars to contract with nearby public or state-approved private schools as the education provider; or use tax dollars to allow a student to attend a public or state-approved private schools. Because some School Administrative Units (SAUs) - SAUs are towns or collections of towns collaborating to provide public education to their resident students - do not operate local public schools at certain grade levels, and do not have contracts in place with nearby public or state-approved private schools, they use public funds to purchase education at the approved institution selected by students/parents. These are the communities impacted by the recent SCOTUS decision in the Carson v. Makin case.