Friday, January 11, 2013

In Maine, more heat on virtual schools

For those following the virtual charter schools issue here in Maine, it's been a dramatic week.

On Tuesday, the state's charter commission rejected both virtual charter school applications, a move expected to displease Gov. Paul LePage. The last time they failed to accept either of the two proposals -- one to be managed by K12 Inc., the other by Connections Learning -- the governor suggested they reconsider or resign. Indeed, LePage did not disappoint. On Wednesday he held two fiery press conferences where he proclaimed -- falsely -- that Maine had the worst public schools in the nation, that the charter commission had made their decision because of "intimidation" from public school interests, and that the commissioners should, indeed, resign.

Today the board president of one of the rejected schools, Maine Virtual Academy, made public an angry letter she sent to the charter commission, while education commissioner Steve Bowen did his best to defend the governor's position under pressure from both of WGAN radio's morning hosts.

Why all the heat?

For some background, you may want to read my investigation into the role K12 Inc and Connections Learning have played in developing digital policy here in Maine, and the associated sidebar on those company's track record in other states. It's worth noting that the board of Maine Connections Academy -- associated with Connections Learning -- consists of close LePage allies including Republican Party vice-chair Ruth Summers (wife of 2012 US Senate nominee Charlie Summers), state Rep. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough), and former state senator Carol Weston, who heads the state chapter of the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity.

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