University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Last Chance Before Election Day: The Arkansas Governor’s Race & Pre-K

In The View from the OEP on October 29, 2014 at 12:04 pm

As most followers of the OEP would know, most key education policy decisions are made at the state level (in fact, more than 60% of the funding spent on K-12 education comes from the state’s coffers). Thus, the gubernatorial election has important implications for K-12 education policy in our state. The OEP has been closely following and have posted a great deal on this race. With the election date only 6 days away, you have very little time left to study up on the candidates and make your final decision. So, if you’re still doing some last minute studying for this “exam” on November 4, here are a few materials that you might find useful.

In the Spring, we conducted YouTube interviews with all 4 candidates at the time.  You can find our summary of the candidate’s views here, or you can view the videos of the candidate interviews in their entirety here.  Finally, you can see an update of the candidate’s views in a blog post just last month.

One of the key education issues in our gubernatorial race is whether or not to increase funding for pre-kindergarten; and so, this week, we decided to examine the evidence on pre-K. In the policy brief we released today, we examine the history of pre-K in Arkansas, and we provide a summary of pre-K research across the nation.

CaptureCurrently, over 25,000 three- and-four-year old students across the state attend state-funded Arkansas Better Chance pre-K programs. Since 2008, approximately $111 million has been spent each year by the state on pre-K. Depending on the outcome of next week’s elections, we may see changes in pre-K spending in our state.

We believe that in order to decide whether to make a substantial investment in pre-K, it is important to consider the impact that pre-K has on students. In the policy brief, we highlight the research on long-term and short-term impacts of pre-K to conclude:

  • Long-term studies of specialized programs reveal positive impacts on outcomes such as such as educational attainment, earnings, health, and crime rates, but all of these studies were on small, intensive programs
  • Recent studies on state-funded pre-K programs in Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Arkansas found short-term positive effects in math and literacy in kindergarten; however, these effects disappear over time.

As with any policy, the state’s priorities and budget constraints must be taken into account when making funding decisions; however, we believe that the evidence surrounding a policy should also play a role in the decision-making process. Often we see policy-makers and politicians cherry-picking positive or null results to support their position on pre-K, without considering the evidence as a whole. Therefore, we urge you to take a look at the policy brief, and weigh the evidence yourself!

In the meantime, we’ll see you at the polls!

Issues the Ledge Might Tackle — Charter School Facilities

In The View from the OEP on October 22, 2014 at 2:19 pm


capital picOver the next couple of months in the OEP Blog space, we will discuss topics that we think may be the focus of legislative activity in the upcoming 2015 general session.  If there are topics you think we should be considering, please let us know!

In this week’s post, we consider the always-controversial topic of charter schools. And the topic only gets more heated when money is thrown into the mix! We have discussed funding and charters a few times in the OEP cyber space (see our past policy briefs from January 2014 and May 2012).  In short, in each of these analyses, we found that, on average, charter schools in Arkansas have access to lower levels of total revenue per pupil than do traditional public schools; the difference is approximately 20%.  The greatest portion of this gap is due to charter schools’ relative lack of access to facilities funding used to build, acquire, renovate, or maintain buildings and equipment. As charter school leaders continue to seek funds for adequate facilities, this funding disparity is likely to foster some spirited legislative discussion on how the state should support facilities for students in public charter schools in Arkansas.

As a result, the OEP today releases our newest policy brief on the topic of Charter School Facilities Funding.  The purpose of this brief, given that our state’s lawmakers may well be seeking strategies to support charter school facilities, is to describe what sources of facilities funding are currently available to Arkansas’s open-enrollment charter schools (which we will refer to as “charter schools” here), and highlight a few options that other states are using.

Our policy brief goes more into the nitty-gritty specifics, but we wanted to highlight a few of the key issues here. There are two main reasons charter schools are at a disadvantage relative to TPS when it comes to facilities funding: charters are unable to collect funds from local property taxes (because open enrollment charters are attached to no specific locality!), and charters are unable to access the state’s facilities funds. Currently, TPS districts in Arkansas can fund capital projects with assistance from the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation (DPSAFT). Charter schools in Arkansas are currently not eligible for this funding. Through the DPSAFT’s Partnership Program, which funds new construction and major renovations, the state provides funding to TPS districts based on a district’s wealth index: the state pays a larger percentage of poorer districts’ construction costs.

In an attempt to consider strategies that legislators might consider, we looked around a bit at what other states are doing with regard to funding charter school facilities. For the most detail, see our policy brief, but keep reading here for a snapshot of innovative funding opportunities for charter schools.

Credit Enhancement Programs

According to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), 9 states have some sort of Credit Enhancement Program. These programs allow charter schools to access higher bond ratings when borrowing funds, and in some cases, this can greatly lower the expense. In some cases, like in Colorado, qualified charter schools are also able to attach the state’s moral obligation pledge to their debt, meaning that the state has a moral obligation (although not technically a legal one) to step in and assist if a charter school defaults. Arkansas does have a credit enhancement program: the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) guarantees certain bonds using interest earnings derived from investments of the state.

Right to use TPS buildings

According to LISC, 11 states (California, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming) make district facilities available to charter schools either through requiring published lists of available buildings, offering charter schools the right of first refusal to lease or purchase, or in the case of two areas (California and New York City), requiring school districts provide space.

According to a 2013 report, 63% of open-enrollment charter schools reported that there are empty TPS buildings near their school. Five of these reported asking the district for use of that facility, but none were granted access.

In addition, early this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced said that charters in New York City will now have access to public school facilities at no charge, or the city will subsidize their school space.

District-Charter Compacts

Some innovative partnerships have recently developed between charter schools and traditional public school districts. These partnerships aim to be mutually-beneficial relationships. In some, charter schools take up residency in empty or underutilized district buildings. Charters benefit from reduced start-up or facilities funding costs, but districts can benefit in several ways as well: collaboration in professional development, spillover of positive charter school culture, and in some cases the ability to “claim” the higher test scores of charter students. Several successful district-charter compacts were highlighted in a recent Education Next article. For example, a YES Prep charter school in Aldine, TX partners with the local school district and the higher-scoring YES Prep students count toward the district average.yes prep logo

 The Gates Foundation provides funding for district-charter “compacts” in 20 cities (usually in the form of $100,000 planning grants). These grants pay for joint professional development, gates logodesigning a universal enrollment system, establishing metrics to be used with all students, and creating more personalized learning environments for students, and implementing common core state standards.

What’s to come in Arkansas?

During the 2015 session, if the legislature takes up the issues of facilities funding for charter schools, there are several models across the country that may serve as a guide. We at the OEP are big fans of ideas that involve partnerships or the use of under-utilized public resources.  Thus, in places where public school facilities are vacant while nearby charter schools are in need of space, we like the idea of a district-charter compact (highlighted above) or “shared-space” solution. For example, the KIPP Delta charter school in Helena is forced to use portable and has taken on several million dollars in debt, all while several elementary school buildings sit unused in the same city.  While there are challenges associated with creating such partnerships, this strategy has been employed in other states; surely educators in Arkansas can also figure out how to collaborate for the sake of our schoolchildren.

A second plausible strategy would involve the state’s public school facilities funds being made all available to all public schools, including open-enrollment charters. Of the 43 states with a charter law, just under one-third allow charters to access per-pupil facilities funding provided by state resources.

Whether Arkansas lawmakers pursue one of the above strategies or an innovation not mentioned here, it is likely that the 2015 session will involve some legislative work aimed at ensuring that students in all Arkansas public schools – charters and TPS – have access to adequate school facilities.

Four New Open-Enrollment Charter Schools Approved This Week

In The View from the OEP on October 17, 2014 at 11:12 am

On Wednesday and Thursday, Arkansas’ Charter Authorizing Panel held hearings for proposed open-enrollment charter schools. The Charter Authorizing Panel is appointed by the Commissioner of Education and is comprised of the Assistant Commissioners in the Arkansas Department of Education.

In an earlier blog post, we detailed the six proposed open-enrollment charter schools that applied to open for the 2015-16 school year. In addition to the six applications for new schools, KIPP Delta submitted an amendment request to open a middle school in Forrest City, making a total of seven charter school proposals that were scheduled to be heard this week. Due to existing laws, up to six open-enrollment charter schools could be authorized in the 2014-15 application cycle.

Due to application deficiencies in two proposed schools, the Charter Authorizing Panel held hearings for only 5 of the 7 proposed schools this week (4 applications and 1 amendment request): 4 proposed schools were approved, and 1 proposed school was denied.

Approved open-enrollment charters:

  • KIPP Delta received an amendment request to open a middle school in Forrest City. The school will open with 5th grade students in 2015-16 and expand from there. KIPP submitted an amendment request (as opposed to an application), due to an existing law that allows KIPP Delta to open new campuses under its original charter.
    • Forrest City School District submitted a letter opposing the school.
  • Capitol City Lighthouse Charter School was approved to open in North Little Rock. Currently, Lighthouse Academies operates charter schools in Jacksonville and Pine Bluff. The new charter school will open with students in grades K-6 and expand by one grade level each year to eventually serve K-12.
    • North Little Rock School District presented opposition to the school, highlighting a decrease in funding from the desegregation lawsuit.
  • Haas Hall Academy was approved to open a charter school in Bentonville. Haas Hall Academy currently operates an 8-12 charter school in Fayetteville that opened in 2004. The new school in Bentonville will serve students in grades 7-12.
  • Ozark Montessori Academy was approved to open a school in Springdale. The school will initially serve students in grades K-6, but it will add a grade level in subsequent years to reach K-8. Ozark Montessori Academy stated that it will become the first public Montessori school in the state.

Denied open-enrollment charters:

  • Arkansas Connections Academy applied to open a virtual school to serve K-12 students across the state of Arkansas (with operations out of Bentonville). The charter sought to serve 1,000 students in year 1, 2,000 in year 2, and 3,000 in year 3.
    • The Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators spoke against the charter.
    • The panel unanimously denied the application based off a number of concerns, including technology support and teacher capacity. The panel voted to allow Arkansas Connections Academy to resubmit an application next year.

Tabled open-enrollment charters:

  • Redfield Tri-County Charter School applied to open a charter school in Redfield, where a middle school was closed after the 2012-13 school year (Redfield had previously been consolidated with White Hall School District).
  • Rockbridge Montessori School is seeking to open a school in Little Rock to serve students in K-8 (starting with K-4).

The tabled applications were postponed due to requirements regarding communication of the proposed charters schools in newspapers. The Charter Authorizing Panel will announce when the hearings of the last two schools will take place. Additionally, we may see appeals of the current decisions made to the State Board of Education. A request for an appeal can be made by a member of the State Board of Education, the proposed charter school team, or a school district in opposition to the charter school. The State Board of Education then must reach a majority vote to hear the appeal. If last year is any indicator, we might expect to see appeals made in the upcoming months.

Furthermore, in November, the Charter Authorizing Panel will hold hearings for five proposed district-conversion charter schools (read about the applications here). As always, we will keep you posted on these upcoming hearings and outcomes!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 152 other followers