AUGUSTA — Members of the commission approving Maine charter schools said Tuesday they were optimistic that the state’s first virtual charter school would hit its target student enrollment later this summer and open in time for the upcoming academic year.

Maine Connections Academy in South Portland is about 20 students shy of the 243-student enrollment threshold the school is required to meet in order to open this fall. The school has until the end of the month to report back to the commission with its enrollment numbers. If the school is short of the threshold, it will have to submit an updated budget to the commission to show that it will still be economically viable with fewer students.

School officials say they are confident they’ll meet the original benchmark. Amy Linscott, a board member for the school, told the commission that the school had received nearly 450 applicants from interested parents and 300 signed letters of intent. Linscott said that a compressed timeline and media coverage about the school’s opening had hindered its enrollment growth. She also said the school had plenty of interested parents, but some were fearful of starting the enrollment process if the school’s opening was in doubt.

Members of the Maine Charter School Commission said Tuesday that enrollment efforts were trending in the right direction. After the commission’s June 3 meeting, Maine Connections Academy was 50 percent short of the 243 students, with 127 committed to attend. As of Monday, the academy had 96 additional commitments.

Ande Smith, who was elected vice chairman of the commission Tuesday, said Maine Connections Academy was “within striking distance” to meet all its requirements to open this fall.

“I don’t think anybody here is expressing concern,” he said.


The sentiment was shared by newly anointed chairwoman Shelley Reed. Reed, formerly vice chairwoman of the commission, will replace Jana Lapoint as the commission chairwoman.

Maine Connections Academy’s offices will be located at 75 John Roberts Road in South Portland. The school originally was supposed to be based in Scarborough, but changed to the location adjacent the Maine Mall after the original lease deal fell through.

The status of the virtual school has been the subject of much political interest. During the past legislative session, the Democratic-controlled Legislature attempted to enact a moratorium on virtual charter schools, citing the potential to bleed cash-strapped school districts to virtual schools’ corporate backers and a learning environment that is largely done from home with limited face-to-face interaction with teachers and administrators.

Charter schools, established by the Legislature in 2011, are publicly funded but operate independently of public school districts.

Students in virtual schools have 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 criticism, in part because local school boards outsource their management to for-profit companies that are beholden to shareholders.

The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, Portland’s only charter school, was Maine’s fifth, opening last year after a period of turmoil in leadership.


Before receiving its charter, Baxter Academy scaled back anticipated enrollment from 160 students to 130 in its final plan. Baxter had a minimum required enrollment of 117.

Maine Connections Academy will operate under Connections Academy, a for-profit company that now operates 25 virtual charter schools in more than 20 states.

The company is owned by Pearson PLC in London, a multinational corporation that formulates standardized tests and textbooks for many schools in the United States.

The charter school commission approved Maine Connections Academy in May, allowing it to enroll a maximum of 297 students by September.

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