The School Budget Validation Process: Empowering Voters, Achieving Savings

Read the full report | As Legislators look to rework the troubled school district reorganization law, one of the components of the law which has become the subject of some debate is the so-called “budget validation process.” This procedure, which requires voter referendums for the approval of school budgets, has been characterized by critics such as the Maine Education Association as being “excessive, costly, and burdensome.”

Evidence shows, however, that the budget validation process is not only highly effective at controlling the growth of school budgets, it is overwhelmingly popular with voters in those school districts where it is now in use.

How does it work? As the budget validation process was first laid out in Maine’s Title 20-A state statute in 1999, the school budget developed by the school committee would be presented at a public meeting where it would be “thoroughly explained” and then put to a vote of those present. If approved at that public meeting, the budget would then be “validated” by a referendum vote three days later. If the validation vote failed, the budget would go back to the school committee for more work and the process would repeat itself until a budget was approved by voters. Maine’s new school district reorganization law applies this same process to all school districts, though it allows up to ten days between the approval of the budget at a public meeting and its ratification by voters.

This simple process has proven to be astoundingly popular. The law requires that the validation procedure itself goes before voters for approval every three years. In 2002, voters in Mexico-area’s SAD 43 became the first school district to use the process, and, as demonstrated in Chart 1, they later voted to continue its use by a better than three-to-one margin.

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