University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Charter Schools Take the News this Week

In AR Legislature on March 17, 2011 at 9:03 am

The time remaining for this legislative session is dwindling away. Over five hundred bills were filed last Monday-the deadline for bill-filing this session. The session is set to end on April 1. Even with d-day approaching, each committee meeting seems to move slowly with very few bills running through…

The big education news of the week includes the shutting down of a Little Rock Charter School by the State Board. There has been plenty of news coverage on this. For those who missed the meeting here is a brief summary.  The school is in financial trouble. The best case scenario is that the school would have been $250,000-$350,000 in the red by the end of the year and the school did not prevent a good strategy to get out of this mess. The school had already borrowed money for a payroll that occurred two weeks ago, and needed additional money to make payroll on Tuesday.

On the other hand, several parents spoke up for the school and the positive impact it was having on their children. School leaders also spoke of some positive academic impacts based on interim student test scores, but this information was not provided clearly to the board.

In the end, it was a disappointing situation for all involved–and mostly for the very young student who attended the meeting in his sharp-looking school blazer. It seems clear that the school had management problems, and in fact, reports are now coming out that indicate the mismanagement may have been more insidious than originally suggested. Without doubt, the consequences provided by the board were certainly strict and swift. The UCPC school was to close immediately — as in, “kids, don’t come to school tomorrow!”.

The bargain charters make with the state is autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. It is important that school leaders realize this responsibility when they make that bargain. Unfortunately, the children are the victims in this lose/lose scenario.  Hopefully, this will cause the ADE to look into their procedures regarding how they allocate money to charters (they initially overpay when actual enrollment is unknown and then take the money back on October 1 when actual enrollment is confirmed if that number is less than expected).

We’ve also observed what seems to be a more sympathetic tone expressed by the media on this issue this week. Perhaps this reflects a changing attitude on charter schools? In any case, this situation will likely continue to garner the public’s attention. Perhaps, one of the few good things that could come out of this situation would be a brighter light shining on the process used by the State Board of approving and reviewing charters.

In addition to the action of the State Board on charter schools, the General Assembly has also been thinking about charters.  Other news in charter-dom is the passage of a bill in the Senate that would essentially remove the cap for charters in Arkansas.

We will continue to keep a close eye on these meetings and let you know what we see.  We expect the level of activity to increase as we near the session’s end.

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