AUGUSTA (AP) — Maine lawmakers are gearing up to debate a bill that would place a moratorium on the creation of virtual charter schools in the state until next year while officials come up with a plan to provide access to online learning to all public schools, including potentially creating a state-run cyber academy.

The bill the Democratic-controlled House and Senate are expected to vote on in the coming days has supporters on both sides of the debate. Critics of virtual charter schools like the idea of a moratorium until January while supporters of online learning like the fact that the state would expand it, said Republican Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth, who’s sponsoring the measure. But it faces several hurdles before it goes into law, including opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, he said.

In virtual charter schools, students use online curriculum and are guided by teachers through email, video chat and at times in an actual classroom. The Maine Charter School Commission is expected to consider two such proposals when it meets March 3. If granted final approval, the commission will enter into contract negotiations with those groups.

Critics of the bill contend that slamming the brakes on those proposals is a bad business move and is holding back an opportunity that will help students, especially those who live in rural areas and attend schools that may not have the resources to hire teachers in other subjects.

Langley said he supports cyber schools, but that students will be better served in the long run if the state is in control and can expand access to all Maine students.

“For me this whole thing is, how do we get more digital offerings to more students in more regions of the state?” he said.

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