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Blows Dealt to Virtual Charter Expansion in Maine and N.J.

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In Maine, a bill that would put a moratorium on virtual charter schools has passed through the state Senate. The measure passed with a 22-13 vote split mostly down party lines with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans opposing it.

The bill calls for a hiatus on approving or operating virtual charter schools in the state until the Maine Charter School Commission comes up with laws and guidelines to govern such schools. It requires the commission to report back to the legislature with their findings on the issue by Dec. 1.

The state approved the introduction of charters in 2011, but Senate President Justin Alfond, who sponsored the moratorium on virtual charters, wants a new set of laws passed to govern virtual charters—which typically educate students online versus face-to-face—that are separate from the rules for regular charter schools, says an article in the Bangor Daily News.

The Maine Education Association and the Maine School Management Association came out in favor of the moratorium on virtual charters.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf has denied final permission to two virtual charter schools hoping to open this fall. Cerf had granted conditional approval to the two charters about two years ago, says an Associated Press article, but on Monday he sent letters denying the schools permission to open, citing concerns about the "legal and practical implications" of virtual charter schools.

Between the two of them, the schools aimed to serve about 1,000 children in grades K-12. One of the schools, the New Jersey Virtual Charter School, would have operated outside of a current law that requires charter schools to serve only contiguous districts, which the state department of education had sought to change, but Cerf—in his letter on Monday—said would remain in place.

The news comes on the heels of a one-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools in Illinois districts outside of Chicago. The bill, signed into law by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn last Friday, also requires the Illinois State Charter School Commission to study how well students learn in virtual charters, what the costs associated with operating the schools are, and what oversight such schools should receive, according to the Chicago Tribune. The commission will report their findings to the legislature by March 1, 2014.

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