AUGUSTA, Maine — Another attempt to slow down virtual public charter schools in Maine took a step toward enactment on Monday.
The House of Representatives voted 91-56 in favor of LD 995, An Act to Establish a Moratorium on the Approval and Operation of Virtual Public Charter Schools, which heads to the Senate for further votes.
Sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the bill would put a moratorium on virtual public charter schools until the Legislature passed a bill expressly authorizing them — on a part-time basis only — in Maine. The bill calls on the Maine Charter School Commission to develop legislation that would allow schools that enroll students on a part-time basis in grades 9-12.
Earlier this year, the House and Senate approved LD 1736, sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, which sought to put a moratorium on virtual public charter schools until the Department of Education could develop a state-run school. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill, and the veto was sustained in the Senate.
In the meantime, an organization called Maine Connections Academy has received approval from the Maine Charter School Commission to open this fall, though no contract has been signed.
House Democrats said virtual charter schools in other states have not performed nearly as well as traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
“Does it make sense to move ahead when we have all of this data that shows these schools are not performing well?” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee. “We need to slow the train down, and take a look at why these measurements are as bad as they are for virtual charter schools.”
Not all Democrats agreed. Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, suggested proponents of the bill were cherry-picking data to support their arguments.
“You can find stuff on either side of any particular point,” said Casavant. “I want to urge people to understand that when you look at virtual public charter schools, you’re looking at a certain type of student that needs that type of school. Yeah, maybe there are some virtual charter schools that are not doing well, but if you look at the big picture, you could argue that public schools aren’t doing well either.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said he trusts the Maine Charter School Commission to keep its standards high as it oversees virtual schools in the future.
“If we let them do their work, this stuff is going to get done in the way it should be done,” said Fredette.
The 91 House votes in support of the measure would not be enough to override a veto by LePage, a long-time supporter of charter schools in Maine. The bill faces more votes in the House and Senate.