Maine Approves First Statewide Fully Online School, Obstacles Remain
After reporting in Keeping Pace 2013 that the number of states allowing statewide fully online schools dropped (for the first time in our 10 years of publication) to 29 states in SY 2013-14, we are pleased to see options expanding, if slowly. We previously reported on Massachusetts, and now it appears likely that Maine will open its first statewide fully online school in SY 2014-15. LD1553 (2011) allowed charter schools in Maine for the first time (limited to 10 charter schools over 10 years; five of those were approved for SY 2013-14, but none are virtual), and created a State Charter School commission as the only entity that can authorize virtual charter schools. (Other types of authorizing entities are allowed in the law, and they can authorize charter schools that have an online component.) The Commission rejected virtual charter proposals from Connections Education using the Connections Academy program (Maine Connections Academy) and K12 Inc. (Maine Virtual Academy) in January 2013, and none were approved for SY 2013-14.
On Monday, the Maine Charter School Commission approved the Maine Connections Academy to begin serving students in grades 7-9 in SY 2014-15, and authorized it to eventually serve up to 750 students in grades 7-12. At the same meeting, the Commission rejected a proposal for the Maine Virtual Academy, a K12 Inc. school.
While the Commission’s approval is significant progress, we hope that it is a step towards eventually approving more than one online school in Maine so that students have choices among online schools. In addition, there are two bills currently moving through the Maine legislature that have the potential to affect the opening of the school. LD1736 would authorize the opening of a state virtual school to provide supplemental courses to students statewide, while simultaneously blocking the Maine Charter School Commission or any local school district from authorizing a virtual school until the state virtual school is “operational.” LD481 would require teachers to be Maine certified, the charter school’s authorizer to approve courses and curricula prior to the start of the school year, and each virtual charter student to receive two in-person visits from a teacher each year. It would also provide that only "20% of the per-pupil allocation of state and local operating funds follow the student to a virtual public charter school."