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Vote on second virtual charter application Nov. 13

The Maine Charter School Commission will vote on Nov. 13 whether to approve the state’s second virtual charter school – a move opposed by the Maine School Boards and Maine School Superintendents Associations at a recent public hearing because it would duplicate what already exists.

If the commission approves Maine Virtual Academy, which has ties to the national K-12 virtual charter chain, it will be approving a charter school that appears redundant. The proposed Maine Virtual Academy will be targeting the same students – grades 7 through 12 – as Maine Connections Academy, which opened for business in September.

MSSA President Supt. Suzanne Godin of South Portland said approving the second school is counter to the state’s charter school law, which says authorizers should approve schools that meet an identified educational need in the state, and can deny ones that don’t.

“Given that we already have a virtual charter school in this state targeting the very same population as would be targeted by Maine Virtual, it is very difficult to see why we need another one,” Godin said. She added Maine Virtual appears to have tailored its application to look more like Connections Academy in hope of winning commission favor.

MSBA President-Elect Becky Fles also testified against the applicant at the Oct. 27 public hearing, focusing on the financial impact a second virtual will have on public schools statewide.

“Public schools this year are losing about $5 million to the state’s six charter schools, and approximately $2 million of that is going to Connections Academy,” Fles said. “The economic impact of a second virtual charter school in Maine will have a damaging effect on public schools because, as we are learning with Connections, the draw of a virtual is statewide and national data show there will be a great deal of churn in enrollment. We also are learning, as anticipated, that virtual schools are a draw to home-schooled students.”

There currently is no state or local money dedicated to home-schooled children, but the local districts will have to forward what amounts to tuition to the new virtual charter school – estimated at $8,000 per child, depending on the student mix.

In order to be approved, Maine Virtual Academy will need support from at least five of the seven charter commissioners. The vote will be at their Nov. 13 meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m., in Room 103B of the Cross Office Building, next to the statehouse in Augusta.

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