AUGUSTA, MAINE - Education Commissioner Jim Rier has released the following statement in response to the Maine Charter School Commission's approval of the state's first public virtual charter school.
The unanimous approval authorizes the independent Commission to enter into contract negotiations with Maine Connections Academy, which plans to start serving as many as 300 students from across the state this fall.
"With the expansion of quality public learning opportunities accessible to students from every community in Maine, the Commission's action today is an exciting step forward for Maine families," said Commissioner Rier. "Maine must continue to develop educational options that inspire kids and both traditional and public charter schools play an important role in that. More good public school choices mean more chances for Maine kids to get a great education.
"I want to especially thank the volunteer members of the Charter School Commission for rising above politics and keeping their focus on the best interests of Maine students. Their thoughtful consideration of these applications, and their eventual decision to move forward on just one of the four submitted in this round of review, illustrates the integrity of their process and that it should be able to continue."
The approval of Maine Connections Academy comes as the Maine Legislature debates a bill imposing a moratorium on virtual charter schools that could potentially close the academy just a month before school starts, putting enrolled students in limbo. The Maine House voted for passage of that legislation last week largely on party lines, with most Democrats in support of the ban.
Governor Paul R. LePage has firmly stated he will veto any moratorium on the expansion of student-centered learning opportunities, and the Maine Department of Education has spoken out against the bill.
The Commission also voted today not to advance the applications of the Maine Virtual Academy (4-3 against) and the Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School (unanimously against).
In 2011, Governor LePage signed legislation making Maine the 41st state to allow public charter schools and establishing the seven-member Commission as an authorizer of up to 10 charter schools through June 30, 2022. Local school boards can additionally authorize public charter schools. Currently, there are five charter schools serving more than 400 Maine students including Cornville Regional Charter School, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley, Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science in Gray and Harpswell Coastal Academy.
For more information about the Maine Charter School Commission or to see the approved application, visit http://www.maine.gov/csc