In a compromise designed to settle differing ideas about how to provide online learning resources to Maine students, the state Department of Education would create a Web-based digital content library under a bill unanimously supported Thursday by the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

“I’m OK with this as a pretty good start,” said the committee’s Senate Chairman Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, who had sponsored one of two online learning bills this session. The education department proposal replaces the language in his bill, L.D. 1230, which included specific requirements such as having content providers apply to have their materials and classes made available on the state website.

Instead, the department would work with a task force to create a digital library to be in place by the start of the 2016-17 school year. The group would establish criteria for what material to include, create a rating/feedback system, and create a way for educators to add their own materials and access other materials on the site.

The bill would allow the education commissioner to approve and oversee the project, and to contract out any work to implement any recommendation of the task force.

The committee also added language to require the department to give the committee an annual report on the project.

The bill now must still get the approval of the full Legislature.

Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, who had also proposed a similar online resources bill, said he was happy with the new proposal.

“What counts is that we start moving on this,” Hubbell said. “If this gets it going, it seems like a good outcome.”

Hubbell and Langley both emphasized that their overall goal was similar, to create a single website that pools materials that have been vetted and approved by the state and has a user-review system, something Langley compared to Amazon and its feedback section.

Such a site could list a generally available Khan Academy math course, for example, but also inform users that the course had been reviewed and specifically meets Maine’s seventh-grade math requirements.

Online educational resources are already available to Maine students, from free websites to educational cooperatives such as the fee-based Virtual High School, which already serves about 50 Maine high schools.

The Maine Department of Education also lists preapproved online learning providers. The eight schools currently on the list include New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy and the two for-profit education providers working with the state’s virtual charter schools.


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