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Issues that the Ledge Might Tackle — School Transportation Funding

In The View from the OEP on November 19, 2014 at 11:32 am

Untitled3In the months leading up to the 2015 General Assembly, we are highlighting education topics that may be considered during the session (read our last post on charter school facilities funding). This week, we’re releasing a policy brief examining transportation funding in Arkansas.

In September, the Joint House and Senate Education Committee heard from Picus Odden & Associates on Arkansas’ school funding matrix. (See the Picus Odden & Associates report here.) During the report, Picus Odden & Associates recommended that the state change how it allocates transportation funding to districts to account for variation in district spending on transportation.

Currently, local, state, and federal funding is spent on transportation. The state distributes funding to districts for transportation as a part of the unrestricted foundation formula, as transportation funding is a line item in the matrix. Picus Odden & Associates recommended that the state change how it allocates transportation funding due to the following reasons:

  • In 2012-13, the foundation formula accounted of $309.90 per pupil for transportation funding; however, on average, districts spent $452.06 per pupil. [1]
  • There are large discrepancies in per pupil spending on transportation among districts in any given year. For example, in 2012-13, Hillcrest School District spent $1,277 per pupil on transportation costs, while the West Memphis School District spent $147 per pupil on transportation costs.[1]

Today, we are releasing a policy brief to dig into the issues with the current funding structure for school transportation. In doing so, we explain how other states account for variation in transportation costs. For example, in Arizona, transportation funding is allocated to districts with a density formula based on the average daily route mileage per eligible pupil transported.

Additionally, the policy brief discusses transportation funding for charter schools. In 2012-13, three open-enrollment charter schools did not spend any money on transportation, while other charter schools spent just as much as the average traditional school district. We have noticed that transportation has become an issue in a number of charter hearings or renewal hearings in the past couple of years. Representatives from some charter schools have stated that they would like to attract a more diverse student body (racially and socio-economically), but the lack of additional funding for transportation made it difficult to serve this population, who typically rely on school-provided transportation to get to school. While charters receive the same amount of funding for transportation as traditional school districts do (through the foundation formula), we see that charter schools have lower levels of total revenue than their traditional district counterparts overall. (Read our recent blog post and policy brief on this issue here.)

In the months and years to come, we believe that it will be important for Arkansas policymakers and education officials to determine whether the state has a fair system to fund school transportation for Arkansas’ school districts. To do so, it will be important to consider how other states fund school transportation and account for variation in spending among districts. We hope our policy brief adds to this discussion!

Other resources that examine transportation funding in Arkansas:

[1] Spending data from the Annual Statistical Report. Per pupil data based on enrollment figures in the stated year to best approximate how much money is spent per pupil in each year (We find slightly different figures  from the Bureau of Legislative Research reports because we include all spending on transportation based on enrollment numbers.)

Introducing Arkansas’ New House & Senate Education Committees

In The View from the OEP on November 12, 2014 at 11:44 am

Arkansas_House_of_RepresentativesLast Friday (November 7), the Arkansas House of Representatives selected committee assignments; and of note to our readers, the House Education Committee is nearly evenly split between new and old members.

While the Republicans have a majority in the House (64 seats), the House Education Committee is one of two committees with an equal number of Republicans (10) and Democrats (10). The only other committee to be divided evenly by party lines is the Insurance and Commerce Committee.

Without further ado, here is the new committee…

New members to the House Education Committee:

Returning members to the House Education Committee:


On Friday, November 14, the Arkansas Senate selected committee assignments.

New members to the Senate Education Committee:

Returning members to the Senate Education Committee:

We want to welcome the new members and the returning members to the Education Committees.

We will continue posting on our series in the weeks to come: “Issues the Ledge Might Tackle.” We expect many education issues to surface during the 2015 General Assembly, including broadbandcomputer science courses, Common Core State Standards, adequacy, facilities fundingteacher insurance, and many others.

*Newly elected to Arkansas’ House of Representatives or Senate

Election results are in: How will this impact education in Arkansas?

In The View from the OEP on November 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

AsaHutchinsonWith the midterm election results in, Asa Hutchinson will become Arkansas’ 46th Governor. During the election season, we have kept you updated on the education issues in the Governor’s race; and so, today we will discuss how the election will impact education in our state.

As we discussed previously, as chief executive of the state, the next Governor of Arkansas will not only have the opportunity to make key appointments to lead the Arkansas Department of Education, but the Governor can serve as a vocal leader in education reform in the state. Therefore, based on Asa Hutchinson’s education platform, what should we expect to see from our next governor?

Computer Science

Asa Hutchinson’s education platform focused on a policy initiative to provide computer science classes in every high school in Arkansas within four years. Hutchinson’s plan calls for a computer science class (with an emphasis on coding) to count towards graduation requirements as a math or science credit. To offer the classes in districts across the state, Hutchinson’s plans suggests that the state will develop curricula for computer science classes and provide professional development for teachers.

Common Core

Asa Hutchinson stated that as governor he will “request a thorough review” of the Common Core State Standards and the state’s adoption and implementation of the Standards (read our detailed report on the Standards and the subsequent debate surrounding the Standards here). While governors in other states that have sought to repeal the Standards (including Louisiana), it is important to point out that Hutchinson has not stated that he will repeal the Standards.


While Asa Hutchinson’s opponent, Mike Ross, campaigned to expand pre-kindergarten, Hutchinson’s plans call for Arkansas’ current pre-k program to be fully funded at its current state. The Arkansas Better Chance program subsidizes pre-k for students in families up to 200% of the federal poverty level. (Read more about pre-k in our recent blog post and policy brief.)

School Choice

Hutchinson’s education platform calls for parental choice in education; and in doing so, Hutchinson stated that he supports charter schools for “their ability to innovate and provide unique choices in education for parents.”

Other issues:

To learn about these issues and others, you can watch our interview with Asa Hutchinson last spring (read about the interview here).

As the Arkansas House and Senate will be majority Republican, we can expect the Governor’s initiatives to receive support in the chambers. Furthermore, we can expect there to be other education issues that will surface during the 2015 General Assembly.

As always, we will keep you updated on Arkansas education news; and in the weeks to come, we will continue our series on issues that we expect the Arkansas Legislature to tackle during the 2015 General Assembly.

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!

October Joint House and Senate Ed. Committee Meeting Recap

In The View from the OEP on October 15, 2014 at 12:14 pm

The education committees of the Arkansas House and Senate met jointly on Monday, October 13th and Tuesday, October 14th to hear interim study reports on grade-level reading, leadership development, and school choice and to discuss educational adequacy.

Grade-Level Reading

logoThe transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” that takes place between third and fourth grades was the basis of an interim study to identify strategies to help all Arkansas students achieve grade-level reading by 2020. Working group chair Angela Duran, Director of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade Level Reading, explained that entering fourth graders who read at grade level have greater success rates in high school and college. Among the working group recommendations are increased funding for the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) pre-kindergarten program; expanding ABC and Head Start programs; evaluating the impact of school improvement consulting expenditures; improving data quality in absentee reporting; and ensuring that NSLA funds designated for summer and after-school program are spent accordingly.

Leadership Development in Education

In their annual report to the education committees, the Leadership Coordinating Council highlighted the superintendent mentoring program and the evaluation systems for principals and superintendents. All first-year Arkansas superintendents are required to complete 18 hours of professional development and 12 hours of interaction with a trained mentor. The recent increase in the number of program participants was attributed to a surge in retirements among “baby boomer” superintendents.

LEADS_FINAL_1All districts have implemented the Leader Excellence and Development System (LEADS) for principal evaluation, and the system has expanded to include other school administrators and district leaders. Later this year, a newly-developed system for superintendent evaluation will be piloted in ten schools and will include training for school board members.

Director David Cook of the Arkansas Leadership Academy (ALA) highlighted the new Student Voice initiative, which is set to expand across the state. Student Voice seeks to gather student input and “give students a sense of empowerment and ownership in their academic outcomes with the goal of improving the learning culture and closing the achievement gaps.” Arkansas Leadership Academy School Support Leader Belinda Akin described another new approach, a three-year pilot project in Pulaski County that focuses on building leadership capacity throughout a school district rather than in an individual school, which is the academy’s usual method.

School Choice

Dr. Patrick Wolf, Professor and 21st Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, presented an overview of school choice research as part of an interim study report required by House Bill 1897. Responding to four main questions asked in the interim study, Wolf summarized the existing rigorous research on the topic, finding: 1) school choice has either positive effects or no effect, but not negative effects, on student performance and attainment; 2) public school performance improves in the presence of school choice; 3) parent satisfaction increases with school choice; and 4) choice creates cost savings. Rep. Randy Alexander reported that the School Choice Committee recommends maintaining the 3% transfer cap for schools not in academic or facility distress, requiring parents to use existing bus pick-up points for their choice school, and adding private schools to enhance choice options and better meet the demand for transfers.

Educational Adequacy

Prior to each regular legislative session, the House and Senate committees on education are required to study educational adequacy and formally report their recommendations to the Governor and House and Senate leaders. Because education is the first priority in state funding, the adequacy report’s funding recommendations are key to the budget development process for the coming biennium. As the committees met on Wednesday to finalize their report, professional development, NSLA, and teacher salaries were among the most discussed funding items. A common theme of the conversation was the need to balance district spending flexibility and legislative funding intent.

Professional development (PD) funds were cut in the 2014-15 school year as one measure to cover school employee health insurance, and committee members disagreed about whether to restore this line item or leave it at the reduced level. Some legislators pointed to conversations with teachers who said the PD they receive is not helpful. Others referred to research findings linking well-trained teachers to student achievement and noted that districts are responsible for ensuring high quality PD. (OEP Research Sidenote: While many in the field believe that good professional development is important for teacher continued growth, there is little if any rigorous evidence pointing out which kinds of professional development are effective … check this federal IES report for documentation of the lack of evidence on this opic.) In a roll call vote, the committee decided to recommend funding professional development at the lower level and reducing the required hours accordingly.

Committee members also discussed whether to recommend increasing NSLA funding, with several arguing that additional funding helps the poorest schools. Others voiced concern about problems with the NSLA funding structure. The committee voted to recommend leaving NSLA funding at current levels, with a proviso for further study.  (OEP Research Sidenote: Readers of this blog may recall that the OEP has weighed in on this question in the past, arguing essentially that a “smoother curve” funding distribution, which would allow for greater concentration of resources in the poorest school districts, would be an improvement over the existing funding scheme … for example, see our 2013 policy brief on NSLA Poverty Funding).

The most vigorous discussion was devoted to the committees’ recommendation for teacher salaries, specifically whether to raise the statutory minimum salary, require a cost of living adjustment (COLA), or some combination of the two. Advocates for increasing the statutory minimum from $29,244 to $31,000 noted the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers in some areas, as well as the link between good teachers and student achievement. Proponents of the COLA approach said that schools with higher salaries are disadvantaged if more funding is directed to those districts paying the lowest salaries. The committee will take up the issue again on Monday, October 27 as the final item in the adequacy report due on November 1.


Arkansas’ Proposed Open-Enrollment Charter Schools for 2015-16

In The View from the OEP on October 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

This week, Arkansas’ Charter Authorizing Panel will hold hearings for proposed open-enrollment charter schools on Wednesday (October 15) and Thursday (October 16). In November, the panel will hold hearings for proposed district-conversion charter schools.

As you may remember, during the 2013 General Assembly, the legislature created a new authorizing panel that oversees the open-enrollment and district conversion charter process (read about the new panel in our 2013 blog post and policy brief). Previously, the State Board of Education served as the authorizer, but the legislature changed the authorizing panel to come from within the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). The ADE Charter Authorizing Panel is appointed by the Commissioner of Education.

This year, 14 letters of intent for proposed open-enrollment charter schools were submitted in May, but only 6 applications were submitted in July (read a Democrat-Gazette article about the schools here). To apply for an open-enrollment charter school, an entity must submit detailed plans that include curriculum and instructional practices, calendar and daily schedule, teacher and staff capacity, salary schedule and budget (for two years), and evidence of public hearings and parental and community support.

Up to six open-enrollment charter schools can be authorized in the 2014-15 application cycle. 18 charters for open-enrollment schools/districts exist in 2014-15, and the law allows the cap to be extended up to 24 open-enrollment schools. Below we detail each of the proposed open-enrollment charter schools. Find the proposed schools’ applications here.

Wednesday’s hearings:

Proposed Charter Arkansas Connections Academy
Sponsoring entity Arkansas Connections Academy, Inc.
Location Virtual school (Operated out of Bentonville)
Expected districts to draw students from All school districts
2015-16 Grade levels K-12
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 1,000 (2,000 in year 2; 3,000 in year 3)
Focus “Personalized learning inherent in a high quality online school”
Other details Students slated to undergo 30 instructional hours a week with 180 days in a school year
Proposed Charter Capitol City Lighthouse Charter School
Sponsoring entity Lighthouse Academics of Central Arkansas, Inc. (National organization: Lighthouse Academies)
Location North Little Rock
Expected districts to draw students from North Little Rock School District; Little Rock School District; Pulaski County Special School District
2015-16 Grade levels (Grade levels when complete) K-6 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve K-12)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 344 (750)
Focus “Rigorous academic program that will integrate the arts with science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEAM)”
Other details Longer school day; longer school year; additional teacher development (160 hours of professional development); focus on student social and emotional development
Proposed Charter Haas Hall Academy
Sponsoring entity The Academy, Inc.
Location Bentonville
Expected districts to draw students from Bentonville School District; Rogers School District; Gentry School District; Decatur School District; Gravette School District; Pea Ridge School District; Siloam Springs School District
2015-16 Grade levels(Grade levels when complete) (7-12)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 320 (500)
Focus “To provide an aggressive alternative to the traditional learning environment of scholars with high intensity of purpose. Every Scholar, Every Day – College Bound!”
Other details Courses determined by academic ability (not grade level, except for English); ACT or SAT required for all 9-12 students each school term

Additionally, on Wednesday, KIPP Delta Public Schools will undergo a hearing to amend their charter to add a KIPP school in Forrest City. KIPP is seeking to open a school starting with grade 5 in 2015-16 and expanding to grades 5 – 8 within four years. Due to KIPP’s charter, KIPP can include the new school within its existing charter, rather than proposing a new, separate charter.

Thursday’s hearings:

Proposed Charter Ozark Montessori Academy
Sponsoring entity Ozark Education, Inc.
Location Springdale
Expected districts to draw students from Springdale School District; Bentonville School District; Fayetteville School District; Gentry School District; Greenland School District; Huntsville School District; Pea Ridge School District; Rogers School District
2015-16 Grade levels(Grade levels when complete) K-6 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve K-8)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 120 (280)
Focus Montessori “hands-on” curriculum; STEAM (science, technology, mathematics, arts, and engineering) project-based learning
Other details Small school; Multi-age classrooms; Technology focus, including video production, sound engineering, and computer coding; outdoor education; world language instruction
Proposed Charter Redfield Tri-County Charter School
Sponsoring entity -
Location Redfield
Expected districts to draw students from White Hall School District; Sheridan School District; Pulaski County Special School District
2015-16 Grade levels(Grade levels when complete) 5-8 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve 5-12)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 175 (375)
Focus “Academic excellence”; “Strive to instill in each student core character values, a sense of community service, and a love of learning”
Other details The Redfield School District was consolidated into White Hall, and at the end of the 2012-13 school year, the middle school in Redfield was closed.
Proposed Charter Rockbridge Montessori School
Sponsoring entity -
Location Little Rock
Expected districts to draw students from Little Rock School District; North Little Rock School District; Pulaski County School District; Benton School District; Bryant School District
2015-16 Grade levels (Grade levels when complete) K-4 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve K-8)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 125 (325)
Focus Montessori curriculum; “academically rigorous curriculum combined with practices of peaceful social development that result in joyful learning experiences for children”
Other details Multi-age classrooms; student choice in work plans

Last year, during the hearings, the Charter Authorizing Panel focused on the school’s curriculum and innovative practices, potential student body,  budget,  and parent and community support, among other issues. However, this year, the Charter Authorizing Panel is comprised of many new staff members, so we will see what the Panel chooses to focus on this year.  Furthermore, last year, a number of the decisions were appealed to the State Board of Education (the Board faced four appeals and reviewed two decisions). This year, in November, the State Board of Education will decide whether to review the Charter Authorizing Panel decisions, if an appeal is submitted. If the State Board decides to review a decision, the Board will determine the timeline to conduct the hearing.

This week, the Charter Authorizing Board hearings will begin each day at 8:30 AM in the ADE Auditorium. Read Wednesday’s agenda here and Thursday’s agenda here. You can watch the hearings live here. As always, we will keep you posted on the outcomes!

An Update on the Education Issues in the 2014 Arkansas Governor’s Race

In The View from the OEP on October 8, 2014 at 11:36 am

1407952203000-ross-hutchinsonWith the Arkansas midterm election less than a month away, we want to provide an update on the education issues at the center of our state’s governor’s Race. Last spring, we conducted interviews with each of the candidates to learn about their stances on education issues (view Asa Hutchinson’s interview here and Mike Ross’ interview here). In these interviews, the candidates discussed many issues including pre-kindergarten, technology, teacher quality, leadership, charter schools, and college access (read the policy brief summarizing the interviews here).

Both candidates recognize that education is very important to our state. Furthermore, both candidates acknowledge that Arkansas’ teachers are vital to providing quality education to our students. In recent interviews with the Arkansas Public Schools Resource Center, both Hutchinson and Ross discussed Arkansas’ teachers (view the APSRC interviews here).

As we discussed previously, the next Governor of Arkansas will not only have to make key appointments to lead the Arkansas Department of Education, but also will serve as the vocal leader in education reform. The governor can serve as a voice to champion promising ideas that can boost Arkansas’ students and the future of our economy. Therefore, as the election approaches, it is important that Arkansas’ voters know the stances of the candidates.

What are the main education issues facing the candidates?


Subsidized pre-kindergarten is offered to 4-year-old students in Arkansas through the Arkansas Better Chance program (state and locally funded) and Head Start (federally funded). The Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program started in 1991 to provide pre-kindergarten to low-income and developmentally at-risk students. In 2003, Arkansas’ legislature increased funding towards pre-kindergarten to create the Arkansas Better Chance for School Success. Currently, subsidized pre-kindergarten is available to students with families up to 200 percent above the poverty level. Since the 2008 fiscal year, the amount of state funding for pre-kindergarten ($110 million) has not increased.

Where do the candidates stand on this issue?

Mike Ross’ education platform focuses on expanding pre-k for Arkansas’ students: “Mike Ross’ next goal will be to gradually increase investments in pre-kindergarten as the state can afford it, until every 4-year-old in Arkansas has access to high-quality pre-kindergarten education by 2025” (Source: Ross’ Pre-K Plan). To start, Ross’ plan aims to provide pre-k for students in families making up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Furthermore, Ross’ plans include covering half the cost of pre-k for students in families between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty level. Ross believes that his plan would cost an additional $37.5 million a year when funded fully. (Read Ross’ pre-k plan here.)

Hutchinson supports fully funding pre-K for all students in families that earn up to 200 percent of the poverty level.

No matter the outcome of the governor’s race, we expect pre-k funding to be discussed during the 2015 General Assembly.

Common Core State Standards

The Arkansas State Board of Education approved the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in July 2010. Across the nation and in Arkansas, the merit and implementation of CCSS has been debated. This summer, we released a detailed report highlighting the standards and the subsequent debate (read the report here).

Where do the candidates stand on this issue?

In recent debates, both candidates have acknowledged the debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards, and both have acknowledged the miscommunication that abounds. Both candidates have suggested that they support reviewing the Common Core to ensure that it is meeting Arkansas’ needs. However, it is important to note that neither candidate has campaigned against the Standards.

In June, Ross acknowledged the issues surrounding local and state control and the Standards, stating: “we need to ensure that the state of Arkansas always has control over its curriculum.”

In September, Hutchinson stated: “I think the important criteria is that we have high standards. Whether it’s Common Core standards or other standards, we need to recognize that, one, we have a mobile society and that was part of the design of the Common Core standards. And secondly, you don’t want to do anything to lower the standards and expectations for our students.”

We expect the debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards to continue; however, we believe that it is important to acknowledge Arkansas’ hard-working students, teachers, and administrators, who are currently using the Common Core State Standards in an effort to improve learning across the state.

Computer Science

Asa Hutchinson’s education platform calls for a computer science course (or a computer coding course) to be offered in every Arkansas high school. Hutchinson acknowledges that this change will require teacher training and/or access to online courses in many high schools. Hutchinson believes that the course “will motivate young people to consider a career path that centers on technology and computer skills.  This change will lay the foundation for future dynamic economic growth in Arkansas” (Source: The Hutchinson Plan for Job Creation Through Technology Education).

Other Issues

To review other issues facing the candidates, you can check out Asa Hutchinson’s platform and Mike Ross’ platform on their respective websites.

During the 2015 General Assembly, we expect a number of other education issues to be discussed including: broadband access, teacher health insurance (in fact, in a debate on October 7th, both candidates discussed the insurance issue), facilities funding, and the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013 (inter-district school choice). As always, we aim to keep you up-to-date regarding education policy in Arkansas; therefore, we will be providing you with more information about these issues and others in the months to leading up to the 2015 Legislative Session.

Remember that early voting starts on October 20th, and Election Day is November 4.

What’s New with PARCC and K-12 Testing in Arkansas?

In The View from the OEP on October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

As you know by now, this year, Arkansas has a new testing system for students in grades 3 – 11: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Last March, we released a blog post taking an in-depth look at PARCC, highlighting some of the unique features of the test. Since then, many details have been revealed by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) regarding testing this year; therefore, in this blog post, we will provide you with these updates by answering some FAQs!

What assessments will students take this year?imgres

PARCC will be administered to students in:

  • Grades 3 – 8 in math and ELA/literacy
  • Grades 9 – 10 in ELA/literacy
  • Algebra I & Geometry

The Arkansas Benchmark will be administered to students in:

  • Grades 5 & 7 in science
  • Biology

Recently, the ADE submitted amendments to its ESEA Flexibility waiver to make changes to the state’s PARCC testing – if the amendments are accepted, PARCC Algebra II and PARCC Grade 11 ELA/literacy will be optional assessments that districts can choose to administer. If a district chooses to administer these exams, the ADE will cover the costs. If a district opts not to administer the Algebra II assessment, the ADE states that the district must provide students with the opportunity to take one the following assessments at no cost to the student: ACT, COMPASS, ASSET, PSAT, or SAT. Also, if the amendments are accepted, students taking Algebra I or Geometry in grades 7 or 8 will not be required to take the Grade 7 or 8 PARCC assessment and the Algebra/Geometry test; they would only have to take the Algebra I or Geometry test.

How will PARCC be administered?

PARCC will be administered online, unless a district has opted to administer the assessment by paper/pencil. For districts administering the assessment online, PARCC has released guidelines for technology usage to help districts prepare for the online test. Districts that opt to use the paper/pencil version had to submit an Assessment Hardship Waiver to the ADE by early August this year. Districts applying to opt into the paper/pencil version had to identify a reason why they could not administer the test online (insufficient bandwidth, insufficient device capacity, internal infrastructure, or other), and these districts had to submit a plan for how to address the deficiency, so PARCC could be administered online in future years. With all the broadband issues that have been discussed this year, we predict a number of districts have opted for the paper/pencil version, but the ADE has not released the list of districts yet.

When will testing take place?

Remember, there are two components to the PARCC assessments: the performance-based assessment and the end-of-year assessment. In a previous blog post, we outlined these assessments and the time spent testing (you can find more information from the ADE here). These tests will be taken in different windows, with the performance-based assessment administered first. The ADE released a helpful testing calendar for the PARCC assessments:

PARCC Calendar

Additionally, some high schools will be administering the PARCC this fall to block courses in grade 9-10 ELA/literacy and Algebra I and Geometry. The Benchmark exams will be administered to grades 5 & 7 in science April 14-15, and the End-of-Course Biology exam will be administered April 28-29.

Districts will decide at what point during the windows to administer the specific PARCC assessments. We predict that most districts will need to administer the assessments to different grade levels throughout the time block, as many districts will not have the capacity to administer the assessment to all students in a school on the same day. In that case, the ADE and PARCC will dictate the order of assessments.

We think that it is important to point out that the end-of-year assessment will be administered later this year than the previous Benchmark and End-of-Course exams. We predict this may result in the weeks in May looking much different in many schools than in the past when May was “post-testing” time.

“I am a teacher, and I want to know more about PARCC.”

PARCC has released two online learning modules for educators. The ADE highlighted the learning modules in a Commissioners’ Memo here.

“I am a parent, and I want to know more about what these assessments look like.”

PARCC has also released practice tests for the performance based assessments in ELA/literacy and math. The practice tests are simulations of the online assessments, so you can take the assessments just as students will do this spring!

PARCC Practice Tests

Furthermore, PARCC has released sample test questions in ELA/literacy and math. Read more about the sample questions and their features in our previous blog post.

Additionally, PARCC will release practice tests for the end-of-year assessments soon:

  • In November, you’ll be able to find a math and Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II end-of-year practice tests
  • In January, you’ll be able to find ELA/literacy end-of-year practice tests


As PARCC and the ADE release more information about PARCC and K-12 testing this year, we will keep you posted! As the testing in the state is undergoing these big changes this year, we believe it is important for all to be informed!


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