Proposal to expand online learning in Maine

Senator Brian Langley is suggesting a new "digital learning exchange" that would serve all Maine students as an online educational resource warehouse. The proposal comes after Langley's idea of creating a state run virtual academy faced opposition.

L.D. 1736 is sponsored by Langley and was brought up at a work session in the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. Langley said, "My goal all along with this one was finding a way to expand opportunities for students across the state to digital content,"

According to Noel K. Gallagher of the Portland Press Herald, The discussion quickly turned to questions on how to create and pay for it and how to track its usage and performance.

State Department of Education director Jeff Mao cautioned the committee that the plan is "not as simple as we would think". He expressed privacy and cost concerns, and said that the idea was the "holy grail" of online education, yet no one knows how to accomplish it.

For starters, private education companies wouldn't want to share their resources with competitors, or have their materials on a third-party site such as the "portal" Langley proposes, Mao said.

Langley requested that the discussion be put on hold until he had a chance to rework the bill.

One part of Langley's proposal is highly controversial, a freeze on all virtual charter schools until the state's online academy or a digital learning warehouse becomes available. Langley said he would not support the freeze on virtual charter schools alone, but that he was willing to combine it with an alternative to online learning.

The original bill was supported by several education groups that have been vocal opponents of virtual charter schools, including the Maine Education Association, the union representing public school teachers.

However, due to the moratorium being added, some support has dried up. Langley acknowledged the politics that surround the bills and said he understands where the Education Department and administration is coming from.

The general idea of having a state-sponsored online digital resource center seemed to have some support from committee members.

Representative Brian Hubbell co-sponsored the bill and says there is a need for virtual learning, and that he hopes the committee recognizes it.

There is currently a variety of online educational resources available to Maine students that include Khan Academy and other similar websites, and educational cooperatives like Virtual High School.

One program that the state offers is AP4ALL; it provides free online Advanced Placement classes to students who are unable to enroll at their local high school

Langley's original bill was fashioned after New Hampshire and Vermont's successful state run virtual charter schools. The estimated cost of replicating the academy in New Hampshire is $6.5 million. A state run virtual school allows public school districts to combine traditional academics with an online curriculum. There are currently 24 states that allow this "blended" curriculum.

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