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Committee unanimously backs charter funding change

The Education Committee today unanimously approved a bill that allows the state to fund charter schools directly, eliminating the requirement for school districts to write tuition checks for charter students.

If the bill, L.D. 131, sponsored by Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, and co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Hancock, is passed by the full Legislature, it will give relief to districts that are hard-hit by charter tuition payments largely because of their proximity to a charter school. The new funding formula would go into effect in 2015-2016.

Under current law, both the local and state share of the charter tuition follows the student. The greatest impact is on the education of the majority of students who remain in their home districts where cuts have to be made when schools are hit with a big charter school tuition bill.

The Skowhegan area, MSAD 54, has been the most cited example, losing an estimated $1 million in state and local aid to charters. In the Topsham area, MSAD 75 is paying a tuition bill this year of more than $800,000, and others are increasingly feeling the pain. There are now 102 districts sending tuition to six charter schools for the roughly 850 students enrolled – a number that will grow in 2015-2016 when the second virtual charter school opens.

The bill, L.D. 131 would spread the local share across all districts.

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