Friday, April 18, 2014
Kennebec Journal Staff
The state Charter School Commission has received letters from seven groups, including two that would operate virtual schools, intend to submit applications to open charter schools in Maine in time for the fall 2014 school year.
The deadline for the notification letters to the commission was Tuesday. The commission can approve up to five new schools in addition to the five that are now operating in Maine.
The letters are from:
* Adventures in Learning Career Academies in Portland, beginning with grade 6, each subsequent year adding a grade until the school includes grades 6-12;
* Birches Montessori School for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and peers in central Maine, kindergarten through grade 6;
* Inspire ME Academy in Sanford/Springvale, grades 4, 5, 6 and adding grades 7 and 8 in the new two years respectively;
* Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School;
* Many Hands Montessori School in Windham, kindergarten through grade 3, expanding to kindergarten through grade 8;
* Maine Connections Academy; and
* Maine Virtual Academy.
Both Maine Connections Academy and Maine Virtual Academy are virtual schools. Both of those schools submitted applications and had been rejected in the previous round of applications because the commission determined that they did not demonstrate enough independence in their governance.
The virtual schools have been proposed by rival companies K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va.; and Connections Learning, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of the publishing giant Pearson.
The companies were the subject of a Maine Sunday Telegram investigation published Sept. 2, 2012, that showed how they were shaping Maine's digital education policies and how their schools in other states have fared poorly in studies of students' achievement.
While the virtual schools would have been governed by local boards, the out-of-state companies would have had broad management powers, including hiring and firing of administrators and teachers, and the provision of academic content and the student assessment data on which the schools might be judged.
Charter Commission members said they were troubled by the local governing boards' perceived lack of independence and doubts about the companies' ability to oversee the schools remotely.
A subcommittee had recommended that the virtual schools' proposals be rejected, saying it had "no confidence" in K12 Inc.'s ability to manage Maine Virtual Academy without any in-state staff.
The notices from the seven groups are available on the commission website. The applications are due by Dec. 2.
Charter schools receive public funding but are run by parents, teachers and community leaders. The state's largest teachers union opposes lifting the cap on charter schools, arguing that they could drain resources from public school districts.
"Having received this number of letters of intent speaks to the interest and need for public charter schools in Maine," Commission Chair Jana Lapoint said. "We look forward to the receipt and review of the applications."
Five charter schools, including three that opened this week, now operate in Maine, after Gov. Paul LePage signed legislation allowing charter schools in the state. The commission can authorize up to 10 charter schools through June 30, 2022.