AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Monday gave preliminary approval to a change in the way Maine’s public charter schools are funded.

The measure, backed by the Education Committee in February, won unanimous approval Monday from the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Monday.

The new funding mechanism is designed to ease the financial strain on any one traditional public school whose students flock to a nearby charter school or a virtual charter school.

As it stands now, funding follows a student from his or her home district to whatever charter school he or she chooses to attend. That means when the student enrolls in a charter school, his or her former school district loses state funding for services it administers. That disproportionately affects schools located near charter schools, which were legalized in Maine in 2011.

Nowhere is that truth more evident than in the Skowhegan school district, which has Cornville Regional Charter School and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences within its boundaries. That district is losing about $1 million in funding because students in its area are attending charter schools.

Under LD 131, which now heads to the full Legislature for approval, charter schools would be treated just as every other school in the state is when it comes to state funding. Their funding will come directly from the state and be paid from the pool of money reserved for all schools, which essentially means the cost for charter schools will be borne by taxpayers statewide.

Lawmakers have tried and failed multiple times since 2011 to change the way charter schools are funded.

Some, mostly Democrats, superintendents and school board representatives, have advocated for a separate funding stream for charter schools that is distinct from the allocations for traditional schools.

Opponents of that notion have countered that there isn’t enough money to make that change — state funding for the state’s charter schools equals about $6 million — and that funding charter schools on their own would make them vulnerable to cuts by lawmakers who disagree with their creation.

Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin said Monday’s action by the Appropriations Committee will be appreciated by local school boards who are currently developing their budgets.

“This gives them the freedom to develop their budgets,” he said.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.