Three members of the Maine Charter School Commission are recommending that the full commission reconsider an application from the Maine Virtual Academy, which was rejected by just one vote on March 2.
The commission, which meets Tuesday, could immediately vote to approve the virtual charter school.
“We think some of the reasons given (for rejecting the application) were not valid or mistaken. So we’re just asking for a second crack,” said Maine Virtual Academy board member Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Maine Virtual Academy, backed by K12 Inc. of Virginia, has come under fire in other states for poor student performance.
Commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint said backers of the charter school sent a five-point letter outlining the reasons they think their application should be reconsidered. A three-person subcommittee of the commission, including Lapoint, reviewed the letter and agreed to bring it before the commission.
“The consensus was that we would like to see the application reopened,” Lapoint said.
“We have remained open to modify our approach through charter contract requirements to meet the concerns of the commission,” said the letter from Maine Virtual Academy board President Amy Carlisle.
Carlisle wrote that the board would be willing to make certain changes, such as having the board, rather than K12, directly hire teachers. The letter also said the commission didn’t correctly characterize the school operation in several areas, including testing, professional development and commitment of board members.
The commission has in the past reconsidered a rejected application. It ultimately approved the Cornville Regional Charter School after it appealed.
No other rejected applicants have appealed the commission’s decisions, Lapoint said.
Lapoint said she and the other members of the subcommittee, John Bird and Ande Smith, will make the presentation Monday. The applicants will not make a presentation, she said.
The three commissioners, along with Commissioner Laurie Pendleton, previously voted to approve the virtual school’s application.
The commission regularly creates subcommittees to review applications from individual schools and provide deeper analysis. Those subcommittees then report back to the full seven-member commission, sometimes with recommendations for action.
Maine now has six charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate independently of public school districts. By law, the state has a cap of 10 charter schools until 2021. The first virtual charter school, Maine Connections Academy, was approved at the March 2 meeting and plans to open in the fall.
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 don’t “fit” at traditional schools, from top athletes in intense training to students who have been bullied. Virtual charter schools also have drawn sharp criticism, in part because local school boards outsource their management to for-profit companies that are beholden to shareholders.
On March 2, the commission rejected the Maine Virtual Academy with four votes in favor of the application and three against it. The application needed five votes to be approved.
Some commissioners raised concerns that K12, the nation’s largest for-profit operator of virtual schools, had inconsistent results in other states and couldn’t provide the commission with SAT and Advanced Placement test results for its students.
Others were concerned that some local board members were not as engaged as others, noting that several board members left some commission meetings early. In the letter, Carlisle noted that meetings were during the legislative season, and one of their board members is Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford.
On Monday, Casavant said he’s not sure what the school’s chances are of winning approval, but he’s hopeful.
“We’re very flexible,” he said. “Tell us what you want and we can do it.”
Commissioners Shelley Reed, Heidi Sampson and J. Michael Wilhelm voted against the application.
Commissioners who voted to approve Maine Virtual Academy said they felt the school had met the commission’s requirements and could be successful.
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: