Maine Giving Virtual Charters Rigorous Test for Approval

Maine was one of the first states to let virtual charter schools open, but it is now putting stringent regulations on those openings to follow.

Maine’s first charter school, the Maine Connections Academy, needs 200 applications by August to open its virtual doors this fall, writes Nell Gluckman for The Bangor Daily News.  As of mid-April, it had around 50. According to Gluckman’s article, the school needs 243 students to pay the bills:

“Volk said discussion in the meeting focused on what would happen if enrollment did not reach 243, the minimum number needed to be financially viable, by August or dropped below that number during the school year. She said they worked out language that would give the charter commission discretion to decide not to open the school if enrollment was too low. If enrollment drops during the year, the school will have to alert the charter commission and it will be up to charter board whether to keep it open.”

Meanwhile, the Maine Virtual Academy is trying to repeal a March 3 decision by the Maine Charter School Commission denying it the right to open its doors, reports Noel K. Gallagher for The Morning Sentinel. The Maine Virtual Academy’s bid to open in the state was rejected by a 4-3 vote. Five votes are necessary to be approved, but one of the people casting a “no” vote has since resigned.

Maine Learning Innovations board President Amy Carlisle said that the online school is willing to change its approach in order to get the commissioners to agree to their opening, reports Gallagher. They have offered to let the board, instead of themselves, hire teachers. Carlisle says that the original rejection was based on misunderstandings and things that were left out of the initial application.

A virtual charter school operates for children who cannot or do not want to attend a brick and mortar school due to being an intense athlete, bullying, or extensive traveling. Virtual charter schools operate by taking public school money that a brick and mortar school would normally spend on a student to pay their tuition at a virtual charter school, writes Gluckman.

Supporters of virtual charter schools say that they give students a variety of options for access to their education. They state that virtual charter schools are great for victims of bullying or athletes that go through rigorous training.

Opponents state that virtual charter schools are taking much needed money away from brick and mortar public schools, says Gallagher. They also claim that the online world degrades the relationship between teacher and student and lowers the quality of a good education. They reiterate that studies have shown that student performance levels are lower in online schools than brick and mortar public schools.