Three groups, including a virtual charter school that is applying for the third time, filed papers Monday to fill some of the last open spots for new charter schools in Maine.

There are four spots available for new charter schools in Maine under the state’s 10-school cap.

Meeting Monday’s application deadline were Maine Virtual Academy; All of ME Academy, a kindergarten through fifth-grade school based in either Lewiston or Auburn; and Inspire ME Academy, a York County-based school for fourth- through eighth-graders.

The applications will be reviewed by the Maine Charter School Commission, with a final decision Nov. 13 on which schools can open for the fall of 2015.

Monday’s application is the third time for Maine Virtual Academy. It withdrew its application the first year and was rejected by the commission last spring. Chairwoman Amy Carlisle has said the current application would be adjusted to address concerns raised in the last application process.

Virtual charter school students learn largely from home and get lessons online, with 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 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.

Maine Virtual Academy plans to contract its academic services from K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, the nation’s largest online education company.

The six existing charter schools are Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield; Cornville Regional Charter School; Baxter Academy of Technology and Science in Portland; Fiddlehead School for Arts & Sciences in Gray; Harpswell Coastal Academy; and the state’s first virtual charter school, Maine Connections Academy, which opens this fall.

Maine Connections Academy, which serves students in grades seven through 12, contracts its services from Connections Academy, a division of Maryland-based Connections Education, a for-profit company that manages 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 publishes textbooks for many schools in the United States.

A 2012 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of K12 and Connections Education showed that Maine’s digital education policies were being shaped in ways that benefited the two companies, that the companies recruited board members in the state, and that their schools in other states had fared poorly in analyses of student achievement.

In 2013, K12 settled a federal class-action lawsuit in which some claims, including those alleging K12 made false statements about student results, were dismissed for lack of merit, while other allegations – that K12 boosted enrollment and revenues through “deceptive recruiting” practices – were dismissed as part of a $6.75 million settlement to the shareholders.

In April, the NCAA announced that it would no longer accept course work from 24 schools operated by K12, saying the courses were out of compliance with the NCAA’s nontraditional course requirements.

Earlier this month, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman ordered K12-managed Tennessee Virtual Academy to close at the end of this school year unless test scores show dramatic gains, according to The Associated Press.

Nationwide, there were 2.1 million students enrolled in charter schools in 2011-12, and 5.6 percent of all public schools were charters, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Maine charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of public school districts. By law, the state has a cap of 10 charter schools until 2021 that are approved by the commission, but there is no cap on district-sponsored charter schools.

Earlier this month, the Biddeford School District voted to form an advisory committee to explore the feasibility of creating a district-sponsored charter school, and the Portland School District has announced plans to offer a virtual instruction program. If the Biddeford school committee approves a charter school, it would be the first in-district charter school in the state.

Three groups that had earlier filed letters of intent, but did not submit applications are:

Compass Academy of Science & Exploration, for kindergarten through fifth grade in Kennebunk.

 The Maine International Charter School, a southern Maine-based high school with the International Baccalaureate program.

 Snow Pond Arts Academy, a high school in Sidney for performing and arts education.


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