AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Charter School Commission voted 6-1 to approve the state’s second virtual charter school on Thursday, giving the online school the go-ahead to begin negotiating the terms of a contract with the state.
Called the Maine Virtual Academy, it will contract with the Virginia-based company K12 Inc., a publicly traded education consultant that manages online schools across the country.
The school in Maine will deliver the curriculum designed by K12 Inc. to students in grades seven through through nine, with a plan to expand up through grade 12. Maine Virtual Academy hopes to enroll about 300 students for the 2015-16 school year, but it hopes to grow to 750 by 2019-20, according to its application to the Maine Charter School Commission.
Students will take courses online and communicate with teachers through email, phone calls and online meetings. Students can be from any town in the state and will work from home or any place where there’s an Internet connection.
Maine Virtual Academy applied unsuccessfully for a charter last year. The school was rejected by the commission in part because under the original plan, K12 Inc. would handle the hiring of teachers, as opposed to the school’s board. There also was concern about the commitment of the organization’s board of directors to the project.
The school has resolved the issues as well as some others that the committee had, according to a report by the team assigned to review the application.
Under the new application, the school’s board will hire all teachers and staff except for a program manager and an office manager. The school will have a physical location in Maine where teachers will work, which has been proposed for either Bangor or Augusta.
The school will use the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment to test students’ academic progress instead of an assessment that K12 Inc. usually uses.
“They’ve reconstituted their board,” said Bob Kautz, the executive director of the Maine Charter Commission. “The governing board gave the commission … more confidence that they would have the ability to open and operate a successful school.”
The first virtual charter school in Maine, Maine Connections Academy, opened earlier this fall. The school serves about 300 students from 86 different school districts across the state.
Charter schools are funded through the school districts where the students would otherwise attend. School districts with students who attend a charter school pay the charter school an allocation, which includes state and local funding, for each student.
If Maine Virtual Academy successfully opens, it would be the seventh charter school in the state. Under the charter school law, which was signed by Gov. Paul LePage in 2011, the charter commission can authorize up to 10 charter schools through 2022.
The Maine Education Association raised concerns about K12 Inc.
“Nationally, the data shows schools run by K12 fail students, with a less rigorous education model,” said a statement released by the organization on Thursday.
The statement cited a 2012 report from the National Education Policy Center, which showed that the graduation rate for students at K12 Inc. schools was 49.1 percent, compared with an average rate of 79.4 percent in the states where the schools were located.
The report also said that only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc. schools met adequate yearly progress, a federal standard that measured schools based on how well students did on standardized tests, compared with an estimated 52 percent of public schools nationwide.