Maine’s Second Virtual Charter School Approved

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Maine’s second virtual charter school has been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission with a 6-1 vote.

The school, the Maine Virtual Academy, will work with K12 Inc., a Virginia-based education consulting company that manages online schools across the country.

Curriculum in the school will be designed by K12 Inc. for students grades 7-9, with the intention of expanding through grade 12.  The academy expects to enroll about 300 students for the 2015-2016 school year but plans to grow to serve 750 by 2019-2020.

Students can participate in any city throughout the state, and can work anywhere there is an Internet connection.  Classes will be held online with teacher communication through email, phone calls and online meetings.

Maine Virtual Academy had applied for a charter last year but was rejected.  The commission said this was in part due to the plan of having K12 Inc handle the hiring of teachers instead of the school’s board.  The commission also held concerns relating to the commitment of the board of directors to the school.

Since then, the academy has decided to have its board hire all teachers and staff, with the exception of program manager and office manager.  Teachers will work at a physical location in Maine, and proposed sites for that location include Bangor and Augusta.

In addition, the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment will be used to track students’ academic progress rather than the assessment typically used by K12 Inc.

“They’ve reconstituted their board,” said Bob Kautz, the executive director of the Maine Charter Commission. “The governing board gave the commission … more confidence that they would have the ability to open and operate a successful school.”

The Maine Education Association has stated that it is worried about the involvement of K12 Inc.

“Nationally, the data shows schools run by K12 fail students, with a less rigorous education model,” said a statement released by the organization on Thursday.

In 2012, a report from the National Education Policy Center showed that K12 Inc. schools hold a graduation rate of 49.1%.  The average graduation rate is 79.4% for states that are home to those schools.

In addition, only 27.7% of K12 Inc schools met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks, which tracks how well students do on standardized tests.  This statistic was compared to the estimated 52% of public schools who meet the standard nationwide.

Maine Connections Academy, the state’s first virtual charter school, opened this fall, enrolling about 300 students from 86 school districts.

Charter schools receive funds from the school districts that the children would have otherwise attended.  The districts pay a set amount for state and local funding for each child.

Maine Virtual Academy will become the seventh charter school in the state when it opens.  The charter commission is allowed to approve 10 charter schools in the state until 2022 according to a 2011 charter school law.