To keep attracting bright students, it has become necessary that school districts explore ways to compete with virtual charter schools.
For example, in Maine, the first virtual charter school has enrolled close to 300 students. Many of these students would otherwise be enrolled in traditional public schools, but are attracted to the online learning as well as the customized approach to instruction.
The response of some school districts has been to create virtual programs that would keep students from leaving the brick and mortar classroom setting, resulting in a loss of state and local funding.
Both the Portland and Lewiston school districts have proposed using Connections Academy, the same company that is used by the virtual charter school that opened this week, to create an online program within their districts.
“We need to increase the number of pathways by which our students can be successful,” said Lewiston Public School Superintendent Bill Webster. “We have students who have dropped out, left Lewiston schools or gone to charter schools because they have not found the pathway that works for them.”
Webster said he learned that creating a virtual school within his district was possible when he was contacted by Connections Academy about two weeks ago. Under this proposal, he would pay the company about $4,000 per student who enrolls in the program.
Lewiston gets $5,927 for each student in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and $6,437 for high school students through the state’s funding formula, so the district is likely to save money if the program is approved by the Lewiston School Board and students enroll.
As of Sept. 2, there were three students from the Lewiston Public Schools who were enrolled at Maine Connections Academy, the new virtual charter school. Four students from Bangor and seven from Portland enrolled.
Connections Academy was paid to support 25 virtual charter schools in 23 states in the 2013-14 school year, according to its website.