University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas’ New Charter Authorizer

In The View from the OEP on November 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm

ADEIn a new policy brief, we provide an overview of the charter authorizer landscape across the nation and give background on Arkansas’ newly-created Charter Authorizing Panel. As you may recall, during the 2013 General Assembly, a law (Act 509) was passed to change Arkansas’ charter authorizer from the State Board of Education to a panel within the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). The new panel will hold hearings on proposed open-enrollment charter schools this week and proposed district conversion charter schools in January.

The new panel was appointed by the Commissioner of Education, Dr. Tom Kimbrell and includes: Dr. Megan Witonski, Assistant Commissioner, Learning Services; Jim Boardman, Assistant Commissioner, Division of Research and Technology; Mike Hernandez, Assistant Commissioner, Fiscal and Administrative Services; John Hoy, Assistant Commissioner, Academic Accountability; Dr. Karen Walters, Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources and Licensure; and Deborah Coffman, Chief of Staff. Read about the members of the new Charter Authorizing Panel here.

The main tasks of the Charter Authorizing Panel are to review applications, grant charters, oversee compliance of the charters, and renew or terminate contracts. As it is the first year of the new panel, it will be interesting to see if  the Charter Authorizing Panel acts differently than the State Board of Education, the previous authorizer. One reason we may think they would act differently is that State Board members are politically-appointed, whereas Charter Authorizing Panel members are appointed from within the ADE. Also, unlike State Board members, the majority of the new panel’s members previously held positions in traditional school districts. As the first round of decisions are made,  we will post updates on the similarities and differences of Arkansas’ two authorizers.

Policy Recommendations

In our policy brief, we provided a timeline of the application and authorization process for open-enrollment charter schools. If approved, an open-enrollment charter school has nine months from “authorization-to-opening.” As we studied charter authorizers across the nation, we would like to propose a policy change to the authorization process. In Arkansas, a proposed open-enrollment charter school has to determine many details before being approved, including but not limited to location of the school, finance plans, curriculum plans, and a five year staffing and enrollment plan. However, once approved, the implementation of the plans can become daunting, particularly on a tight timeline. In many states, charter schools have a longer time period between authorization and opening. For instance, in the District of Columbia, charter schools can have more than a year from authorization to opening. In other states, like Arizona, an approved school can choose to open in six months or wait an additional year (18 months) to open. These extended timelines allows charter schools to have more time to implement plans–including preparing the new facilities; recruiting, hiring, and training staff; recruiting students; etc. We at the OEP believe that nine months is a fairly quick turnaround to open a school, particularly in areas where it is more difficult to recruit students or staff and/or where a lot of work must be completed on a facility. Some charters may be ready–however, other charters may need more time to prepare. Therefore, we propose that the state reconsider the current timeline and perhaps push up the process or allow authorized charters to have a choice in the timeline to open.

As Arkansas’ new charter authorizing panel makes decisions this week, we will keep you posted on the  process and outcomes decided by the new panel.

  1. “Passing laws and policies that have now been shown to weaken the democratic fabric of the country by facilitating people’s choice to segregate is immoral, and those who knowingly create and support such laws and policies are engaging in social and moral malpractice.”
    (Tienken & Olrich, 2013)

  2. “Results from several large studies suggest…students in charter schools either come from homes that are more economically stable, have higher prior achievement levels, do not require special education, ELL, or intense medical services.” (Tienken & Olrich, 2013). Look at the ADE data on Haas Hall in northwest Arkansas. It barely has any diversity.

    Charter schools are racism.

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