Maine Education Committee Suspends Virtual Charter Schools

On February 12, a legislative committee approved a bill that would impose a moratorium on establishing virtual charter schools in Maine. All Maine students will be offered an online learning tools course.

A stakeholder group under the amended bill L.D. 1736 would work with several school districts to give Maine students access to online resources through a New Hampshire state-run virtual academy.

Bill sponsor Sen. Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth), has said that he has already talked to New Hampshire officials about a possible partnership with the Virtual Learning Academy.This is part of a plan to provide online learning resources to Maine students, either with a virtual school or a website that has multiple online educational resources.

The committee voted 11-2 in favor of the moratorium on establishing charter schools. Michael McClellan of Raymond and Mathew Pouliot of Augusta both supported the concept of the bill, but not the moratorium.

If the bill becomes law then the moratorium will affect two applications under consideration by the Maine Charter School Commission. The charter commission can still cast a vote on the two applications while the legislation is making its way through the state house.

Charter School Commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint said she absolutely supported the Langley bill. She said that the commission spent two years setting up strict oversight and benchmarks for virtual schools. She welcomed being part of the stakeholder group to form Maine’s online learning options.

Lapoint said to Langley that, “It’s a good way to go, for both of us.”

“A state-run virtual school would give students and school districts the benefits of online learning while avoiding some of the risks in turning over administration of the schools to private companies. A portal would allow schools and teachers – or parents – to have a state-approved offering of online options,” saidd Langley.

Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier, while speaking to the committee, was asked if the department supported expanded digital learning as outlined in the Langley bill.

Rier replied by saying that he did, although the department is concerned about the potential cost. He also said “the department is interested in supporting digital learning and expanding it. It’s just one more step for students who may not have had access to those resources before.”