AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday vetoed a bill that could lead to the creation of a state-run virtual school, just hours after its final passage in the Senate.
The Senate voted 24-11 to support L.D. 1736, a bill that would create a group to evaluate the costs and formation of a state-run virtual school, while imposing a one-year moratorium on the licensing of private virtual charter schools. Four Republicans supported the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth.
The House previously supported the bill on a 94-51 vote, with mostly Democrats voting in favor. That’s not enough of a margin to override the governor’s veto. The governor and other Republicans object to the moratorium provision.
In his veto message, LePage said a moratorium hurts private virtual charter schools and does nothing to help advance the development of a state-run school.
“It merely denies hundreds of children who need … access to their best educational opportunity,” he wrote.
Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that he appreciated that LePage acknowledged the benefits of a state-run virtual school, but said the veto “means that limited public resources would be funneled toward a small number of students in a virtual school environment that has not yet been proven in Maine.”
He added, “It is our responsibility as a state to ensure that public education dollars are spent as effectively as possible to the benefit of all Maine students.”
Students in virtual schools learn largely from home, getting lessons online and having limited face-to-face interaction with teachers and administrators. Supporters say the schools are good for students who struggle in traditional schools, from top athletes in intense training to students who have been bullied.
Proponents say a state-run virtual school would provide the same benefits while avoiding some of the problems that have plagued some private virtual charter schools. Some have been criticized for outsourcing their management to for-profit companies that are beholden to shareholders.
The moratorium provision in L.D. 1736 would directly affect Maine Connections Academy, which on Monday received approval by the Maine Charter Commission to become the state’s first virtual charter school. Maine Connections Academy plans to open this fall.
The school has contracted with Connections Learning of Baltimore, a company that operates virtual schools in 23 states. The school’s board chairwoman is Amy Volk, a Republican state representative from Scarborough who co-sponsored the bill in 2011 that created charter schools in Maine.
The commission will work out charter language with Maine Connections Academy, which plans to open this fall with an initial enrollment of about 270 students in grades 7-9 and grow to a maximum of 750 students in grades 7-12.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: