The Maine Charter School Commission unanimously approved a five-year charter renewal for Maine’s first virtual charter school on Tuesday, but denied the school’s request to expand into additional grades and lift its enrollment cap.

“(We) feel the school has achieved the standards and targets stated in the charter contract, is organizationally and fiscally viable, and has been faithful to the terms of the contract and applicable laws,” the review team said in recommending the renewal for Maine Connections Academy.

“The school has impacted students in positive ways such as allowing them to feel accepted and supported, helping them feel engaged in learning, and providing flexibility in the delivery of their education.”

The Maine Charter School Commission had the option of renewing the charter for up to 15 years.

The school serves grades seven through 12, is enrolled at maximum capacity, 429 students, and has about 85 students on a waiting list, according to Principal Chad Strout.

Under state law, all charter schools must go through a comprehensive evaluation at the five-year mark to renew their charters. In addition to evaluating student outcomes and organizational models, the commission considers attendance, financial stability and governance.

Academically, students at the school scored below state averages in math and science, and above the state average in English on the state 2016-17 state assessment. The 2017-18 data has not been publicly released.

Financially, MCA receives about $4 million from the state and pays 55 percent of it to a national education services provider, Pearson Online & Blended Learning K-12 USA, an affiliate of Pearson PLC in London, a multinational corporation that formulates standardized tests and publishes textbooks.

Maine Connections Academy continues to struggle with student retention. Strout said that of the first-time students who enter in the fall, about 20 percent drop out at the end of the first semester. Of those that remain, about 60 percent return for a second year.

Maine’s nine charter schools include two virtual schools and two schools that offer residential options. By law, the state has a cap of 10 charter schools until 2021. Total state funding for charter schools is $25.7 million in 2018-19.

About 2,200 of Maine’s roughly 181,000 students attend charter schools.

 

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