Maine’s first virtual public school will get its curriculum, online learning platform, human resources services and, in some instances, teachers, from a multinational publishing and education services giant headquartered in London.
While Maine Connections Academy may be a first in Maine education, nearly half of the schools in the United States use at least one educational product created by Pearson PLC, the largest education company in the world, with a publishing arm that includes the Financial Times, The Economist magazine and a sizable share of Penguin Random House. Its education services include student curriculum, instructional management and financial software packages.
Pearson’s reach into Maine is now moving to a new level.
Maine’s public school teachers, administrators and school districts widely oppose the new virtual school. Much of the opposition is focused on how the school will be funded. Maine law requires school districts to finance the education of students in the district who choose charter schools, with the charter school getting both state and locally raised money from the school district on a per-pupil basis, usually totaling between $8,000 and $10,000 a student annually
Ochs said his company will charge fees for its services, such as its software platform, courses and support services, and those fees will amount to 55 percent of the total school expenses. In addition, the company will pay for other school expenses, such as teacher salaries, rent and state tests, and will then be reimbursed by Maine Connections Academy. Each student in the program gets a box that contains textbooks, science and art kits, physical education materials and a desktop computer.
School districts are angry that tax dollars will be going to an out-of-state company when the state has failed to adequately fund public schools in Maine, said Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, a nonprofit organization supported by school boards and superintendents. “These companies are going to take public dollars and make a profit on that. And they are going to give children a poor education. It seems like a lousy trade.”