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Maine Considers Ban on Virtual Schools, in Favor of Statewide Program

A proposal moving through Maine's statehouse would put a moratorium on virtual charter schools, while also laying the groundwork for the creation of a new cyber program open to students across the state.

Republican state Senator Brian Langley of Ellsworth is spearheading the measure, saying that it will promote the efficient use of state funding in supporting online learning.

The proposal was approved by the state's House of Representatives this week, though it has yet to pass the state Senate.

"With already limited public education resources, we have to ask ourselves how we can get the most out of every dollar we spend," wrote Langley in an op-ed piece for the Bangor Daily News. "A digital learning exchange would increase access to online learning for students at nearly every public school, but individual virtual charter schools would likely only benefit several hundred students"

The measure would, in the near term, call for the state to establish a relationship with the New Hampshire Virtual Academy, allowing Maine students to enroll in its online courses, according to the Maine Sun Journal. The bill also seeks to create a group to begin examining the possibility of having Maine establish its own  statewide virtual program or "online exchange," the newspaper reported.

Langley estimates the expense of approving and running a virtual charter school at around $3 million. Jana Lapoint, chair for the Maine Charter School Commission, says the cost is lower, closer to $2 million.

Lapoint, who said the commission does not support the bill, explained that if the  legislation takes effect, it would undermine two years worth of work by the panel in setting policies meant to promote responsible types of virtual education in Maine.

"I think our commission has proved that we are deliberate in our procedures and we don't look at outside pressures," said Lapoint. "We continue to maintain our focus and concern for the students in Maine and to our taxpayers."

The growth of interest in virtual education Maine has drawn criticism in some quarters from those who question whether the online schools would operate independently of the companies they hire to manage or provide them with services. Similar questions have arisen in other states.

Langley said he supports virtual learning and connecting students with online resources, but he also argues that Maine officials need stronger controls of online education, and that Web-based programs be aimed at helping all students across the largely rural state.

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