FILE - school classroom, teacher, education

An empty classroom.

(The Center Square) – As the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed in-person instruction methods at schools across the country, leaving families to seek more options for their children, a recent court ruling that bans using publicly funded tuition programs to attend religious schools will further curb school choices in Maine.

“There is a national shift in how states are thinking about parental choice and funding of not only Catholic Schools, but private schools in general,” Marianne Pelletier, superintendent of Maine Catholic Schools, told The Center Square by email.

The court ruling was a disappointment to Maine’s Catholic School community, Pelletier said.

“Should the courts have ruled in favor or parental choice, we would see an immediate boost in enrollment within our private schools,” said Pelletier, “I have found there is no lack of interest in our schools, there is a lack of funding.”

“In recent years we have seen a push by the U.S. Department of Education for a federally funded private school voucher program," Pelletier said. "Currently, 29 states provide for parental choice options, in either direct payments or via a tax credit program. It is unfortunate that Maine is not one of the states that are progressively thinking about parental choice for parents to be able to receive funds for private schools."

At stake is the quality of education statewide, Pelletier said.

“Developing a competitive school market will raise the bar for all schools in Maine,” Pelletier said. “Also, at stake is the parent's right to select a quality school to provide for the needs of their children."

An honest, engaged discussion among Maine state leaders about parental choice is necessary going forward, Pelletier said.

“More importantly, I would like to see the discussion coupled with action by our state leaders to join with the progressive movement seen in the 29 states that support parental choice,” Pelletier said.

“I believe it is most important for the parents in Maine to be aware that school choice is an option that has been rolled out in 29 states, and that it should be a topic placed on the top of their list to engage the political leadership in Maine in the discussion,” she added, “Parents need to know they have a voice, and making their voice heard is the only way education in Maine will be able to move forward.”