The state Charter Authorizing Panel met twice this week (yesterday and today) to hear seven separate requests for new public charter schools in Arkansas. The panel approved four of those applications, denied one and tabled the final two until a later date. Those decisions can be changed by the State Board of Education, which next meets on Nov. 13 and 14.
On Wednesday morning, the panel gave the green light to three charter organizations that already operate within the state and are now looking to expand into new towns. KIPP Delta, which now runs charter schools in Helena and Blytheville, is attempting to open a school in Forrest City; Haas Hall Academy, which runs a school in Fayetteville, wants to also set up shop in Bentonville; and, Lighthouse Academies is seeking to expand into North Little Rock from its existing campuses in Pine Bluff and Jacksonville.
On Thursday, the panel approved an application by Ozark Education, Inc. — an organization currently operating a preschool in Northwest Arkansas — for a proposed K-8 school to be called Ozark Montessori Academy, in Springdale.
The panel also denied an application to open an online-only charter school called Arkansas Connections Academy, which would be an arm of Connections Academy, a “virtual school” that operates in other states.
The panel voted on Thursday to defer action on two other charter hopefuls: Redfield Tri-County Charter School (in Redfield) and Rockbridge Montessori School in Little Rock.
Although the Charter Authorizing Panel — which is composed of staff from the Arkansas Department of Education — makes decisions on approving or denying charter schools, the same 2013 statute which created the panel gives the State Board appellate authority.
“At the next meeting, on majority vote, we can vote to review the charter determination,” said State Board chairman Sam Ledbetter. “That can be on our own initiative, or on the initiative of any interested party, which could be the local school district or the applicant for a charter if they’re not pleased with the [Charter Authorizing Panel’s] decision.” Whether or not the State Board takes “appellate” action on its own is up to its members. “We don’t pre-screen these things as a board — but any member can make a motion.”
Judging from reporting by the D-G’s Jeannie Roberts (paywall) on Wednesday’s meeting, the North Little Rock School District, at least, might put up a fight against the prospect of a charter moving onto its turf. NLRSD is already facing budget worries stemming from an approaching loss of desegregation funds, which unfortunately coincides with the ongoing implementation of a massive (and expensive) capital improvement project. Although the NLRSD is doing fairly well academically, every student that it loses to a new competitor would deal a further blow to its budget.
The Arkansas Public School Resource Center has more information on all seven of the proposed charters.
Funding for education reporting provided in part by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.