February 5

Maine lawmakers consider creating state-run virtual school

The proposal has bipartisan backing, but a provision to freeze approval of private virtual schools faces opposition from LePage administration.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Susan Campbell, with the Maine School Boards Association, said the proposal would expand course offerings for poorer districts while controlling costs. Campbell said virtual charter schools would cost sending school districts an average of $8,500 per student. She said the costs would be much lower if the state ran its own academy.

The charter schools in New Hampshire, including the Virtual Learning Academy, receive $5,500 per student, according to the Evergreen Education Group report.

However, opponents said the Maine venture would be costly. Friedman, with state Department of Education, told lawmakers on the Education Committee on Tuesday that replicating the New Hampshire academy could cost about $6.5 million.

The LePage administration has been a strong advocate of charter schools and virtual charter schools, saying both are critical to reforming the state’s education system and accommodating different student needs.

While charter schools have their share of critics, the virtual charter schools have come under additional scrutiny, locally and nationally, for performance and governance issues that involve concerns over whether the schools are sufficiently independent from the large national companies that provide curriculum and manage the schools.

The Maine Charter School Commission created new screening requirements to address such concerns.

For example, the two virtual school applicants previously rejected by the commission won initial approval last week after saying that local school boards will hire and employ the administrators of the schools.

Langley said Tuesday that he was supportive of charter schools, having voted in 2011 to make Maine the 41st state to allow them. However, he said something was missing from the virtual charter schools.

“In my opinion, people (were missing), the teacher and fellow students, what we think of as the learning environment,” he said.

The proposal is scheduled for a work session next week.

This story has been corrected to show that the virtual charter schools are public schools.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

 

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