In 2012, Gov. Paul LePage issued an executive order requiring the Department of Education to expand access to online learning opportunities for Maine’s students. Two years have passed, and the greater community of 185,000 Maine students is still missing the real promise of digital learning.

The Legislature is now considering a bill, LD 1736, which offers Maine the best chance of fulfilling the governor’s vision. LD 1736 would create a digital learning exchange that all Maine schools could access for resources ranging from single lessons to entire courses.

This bill would put us on a path to expand access to virtual learning resources for all Maine students. It would enable Maine’s public schools to blend the best of both worlds: traditional classroom environments supplemented by virtual learning opportunities.

This approach would complement the work of our school districts. Our brick-and-mortar schools have the largest footprint in our communities, from traditional classrooms to technical and adult education programs, to name a few examples. Providing these schools with a digital exchange is the most efficient way to expand access to virtual learning resources.

A blended learning environment would strengthen Maine’s K-12 education system by enabling schools to bring additional resources to students in need of differentiated educational experiences outside the traditional classroom.

We agree that virtual learning is an important new tool for Maine’s education toolbox, particularly because we are a rural state, and it can be a challenge to connect students with the resources they need. Virtual learning can help us overcome that challenge.

It is imperative, however, that we move forward at a pace that allows us to identify best practices. Due diligence will ensure that we spend our state’s public education funds on the most efficient virtual learning model that benefits the greatest number of Mainers. That is why LD 1736 would put a moratorium on the state’s approval of virtual charter schools. We owe it to Maine’s taxpayers to employ state funding for public education as effectively as possible.

Each virtual charter school we approve could take an estimated $3 million out of our state’s public education funds. With already limited public education resources, we have to ask ourselves how we can get the most out of every dollar we spend. 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.

We are excited about the possibilities of virtual learning. Maine can and should implement a thoughtful and comprehensive model for collaborative virtual learning. As legislators, and as members of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, we are committed to ensuring accountability for the quality of the education that all Maine students receive.

LD 1736 offers Maine the best chance it has to develop a virtual learning model that is tailored to the unique needs of all Maine students.

Republican Sen. Brian Langley represents Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, T8 S.D., Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Ellsworth, Frenchboro, Gouldsboro, Hancock, Isle au Haut, Lamoine, Mount Desert, Sedgwick, Sorrento, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Sullivan, Surry, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Trenton and Winter Harbor. Democratic Rep. Brian Hubbell represents Bar Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert (part) and Southwest Harbor. Both serve on the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.