Portland School District anticipates making more than $2,000 for every student that enrolls in a new district virtual instruction program being launched this fall, according to a proposal sent to the Portland School Board.

The program would initially be offered to students in grades 7 through 12, and the academic coursework and teachers would be provided by Pearson, the same vendor used by the state’s first virtual charter school, which opens this fall.

The school board will review the proposal at a workshop following the regular Tuesday night board meeting on Sept. 2 at Casco Bay High School.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said the program was intended for students who are homeschooled or are enrolled at a new virtual charter school.

The district would pay Pearson $4,250 a year for each full-time regular student in the program, but the district would get about $7,000 in state funding. After factoring in some district costs, such as paying to staff a drop-in lab and paying for students’ internet fees, the total cost to the district would be $5,191.23 per student, leaving an extra $2,239.71 for the district.

The district currently doesn’t get any state funding for a home-schooled student, so there is an advantage to enrolling them. Once a student is enrolled, the state allocation amounts to about $7,000 for a regular education student and far more for special education students depending on what services they need.

Under the virtual program, Pearson would provide the instructors, who are certified in the areas they teach, and a “homeroom advisory teacher” who tracks student participation and performance, according to a “statement of work” from Connections Learning, a division of Pearson.

Caulk has said the program would be available to students who live in the Portland School district, but according to the Connections Learning document, the program would be available to students living in Cumberland, York, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Kennebec, Waldo and Oxford counties.

The Connections document also spells out that an agreement would make Connections the exclusive provider of online educational services to the district, which currently uses several vendors for online products. The state Charter School Commission has required virtual charter schools to not get into exclusive contracts with particular vendors to allow flexibility in offering various online programs.

Among the details in the proposal:

• Students would take tests to be placed in a class, and a certain level of English proficiency is expected. All students would get an individual plan, and the district would arrange, for example, to set up a plan so students meet physical education requirements for graduation.

• Students could participate in all district activities, including field trips, social events and extracurricular activities.

• The proposal doesn’t address whether the virtual program would be available to students already attending classes in the district or whether students could take some classes online and some in the classroom.

• The district would spend $8,000 a year on a drop-in learning center open for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It would be staffed with teaching assistants and special education staff, according to the proposal.

• District officials selected Pearson from a list of nine online learning providers that are pre-approved by the state Department of Education. The proposal did not spell out why Pearson was selected over the others.

Maine now has six charter schools — which are publicly funded but operate independently of public school districts — that were approved by the Maine Charter School Commission.

The state has a cap of 10 charter schools until 2021. Charter schools set up through a local school district do not need commission approval and do not fall under the 10-school cap.

Caulk said there are “major similarities” between the Portland program and Maine Connections Academy, the state virtual charter school that will open in the fall.

Caulk said the district intends to administer the new program with existing staff and provide students with computers and hardware as needed. The district has about 7,000 students and 16 schools.

Last year, nine students from the Portland Public School District went to charter schools, and this year the number increased to 31, Caulk said.

Maine Connections Academy will open this fall with about 280 students in grades 7-9 and plans to expand in future years. Portland is also home to a brick-and-mortar charter school, Baxter Academy, which will enroll 230 students in grades 9-11 this fall and plans to become a four-year high school with 315 students next year.

Maine Connections operates under Connections Academy, a for-profit company that runs 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.

Noel K. Gallagher — 791-6387

[email protected]

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