- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A Maine panel approved the state’s first virtual charter school on Monday, but denied another cyber academy and brick-and-mortar charter school.

The Maine Charter Commission voted unanimously in favor of having the state enter contract negotiations with the Maine Connections Academy to open this fall for as many as 300 students. In a 4-3 vote, the commission denied an application for the Maine Virtual Academy and unanimously voted against the Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School.

But approval from the commission doesn’t mean the virtual charter school is a done deal. Lawmakers are considering a measure that would put a moratorium on the creation of virtual charter schools until 2015 so officials can develop a state-run cyber academy.

Supporters of the moratorium say that Maine students will benefit in the long run as the state will be able to ensure that all students have access to online learning. But critics say it’s intended to halt virtual charter schools from moving forward in the state.

The bill faces a likely veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a strong supporter of charter schools.

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Jim Rier applauded the commission’s decision to advance the virtual charter school application and called it an “exciting step forward for Maine families.”

“Maine must continue to develop educational options that inspire kids and both traditional and public charter schools play an important role in that,” Rier said. “More good public school choices mean more chances for Maine kids to get a great education.”

In 2011, LePage signed a bill allowing the commission to approve up to 10 charter school applications through 2022. Two charter schools opened last year and three more began classes in the fall, leaving five spots available in the state.

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