Charter School Bill in Maine Would Streamline Funding

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A bill that received unanimous support from lawmakers on the state Education Committee in Maine would allow charter school budgets to receive funding directly from the state rather than from the districts whose students attend the schools.

Figuring out how to fund charter schools “has been a problem since the initial legislation” in 2011, said Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, the author of L.D. 131. “Funding was always the biggest objection.”

The current system sends state funding to the district where each student resides.  Each district in turn writes a check to the charter school attended by each student in order to cover student costs.  The system has been difficult for each side involved.

When it comes time each year to prepare budgets, each district needs to take a guess as to how many students may be leaving to attend a charter school, although that number could change later on.  Meanwhile, charter schools need to keep payments from multiple school districts organized.

The proposed bill would spread the cost, which totals about $6 million for the seven charter schools in the state, across all school districts in the state.  Charters would be given the same treatment as public school districts for the purposes of receiving school aid.  Governor Paul LePage’s budget would add another $6 million to the state education aid budget, ending the financial impact on school districts.

The next stop for the bill will be the full Legislature, writes Noel Gallagher for The Portland Press Herald.

“We are really pleased,” said Maine Charter School Commission Chairwoman Shelley Reed after the vote. “It provides appropriate funding for our public charter schools so it’s less bruising to the districts.”

There are currently six charter schools in the operation in the state with a seventh expected to open this fall.  Due to the 10-school cap in place in the state, only three more could possibly open by 2021.

There has been controversy throughout the state concerning the funding of charter schools due to the financial impact on school districts located near charter schools, although all sides concerned feel a resolution needs to be reached on the issue.  The idea to spread the cost across all districts was first proposed in 2013 by the LePage administration.

The bill is supported by the state Department of Education.

“This new funding mechanism would relieve the unpredictable financial impact of charters on districts,” DOE Director of School Finance and Operations Suzan Beaudoin told the committee during a public hearing.

Language from the bill was dropped concerning a one-year moratorium on virtual charter schools, which was opposed by both the administration and the Maine Charter School Commission.