AUGUSTA – A legislative panel objected Thursday to cutting $125,000 from a scholarship fund that covers half of medical school tuition for eligible Maine students.

Gov. Paul LePage’s supplemental budget — designed to balance state spending through June 30 — proposed cutting that amount from the Doctors for Maine’s Future scholarship fund.

The Education Committee said Thursday that it prefers to find comparable cuts elsewhere.

“I do wholeheartedly believe in this program,” said Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, the committee’s Senate chairman. “Pulling the rug out from this program sends a bad message, that you can’t trust anything that gets started.”

The Doctors for Maine’s Future scholarship funded its first class of medical students during the 2009-10 academic year. The program, administered by the Finance Authority of Maine, provides students half of their tuition, up to $25,000.

It is designed to make medical school more affordable for Maine students, and to encourage new primary care doctors to practice in rural parts of the state.

Fourteen students are receiving the scholarships. There are two participating medical schools: a Tufts University program affiliated with Maine Medical Center, and the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“This is a long-term investment,” said Rep. Stephen Lovejoy, D-Portland. “I hate to see us start, in its first year, to start whittling away at it.”

The Education Committee’s decision came three days after a group of medical students from across Maine objected to the cut during testimony before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Education committees.

“The message came across loud and clear with the number of medical students that showed up,” Lovejoy said.

Committee members will revisit the scholarship on Monday. They’re scheduled to share their budget recommendations with the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.