University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Charter Decisions: Two New Charters Approved by the New Charter Authorizing Panel

In The View from the OEP on November 15, 2013 at 10:52 am

This Wednesday and Thursday, Arkansas’ new Charter Authorizing Panel took the stage for the first time to hear charter school proposals (read more about the new panel in our previous blog post and policy brief). The panel held hearings for seven proposed open-enrollment charter schools (learn about the proposed schools in an earlier blog post). Up to five open-enrollment charter schools could be authorized in the 2013-14 application cycle (19 open-enrollment schools exist and the law allows the cap to be extended to 24 open-enrollment schools). After two days of hearings, two schools were chartered, three schools were denied charters, and two proposed schools were tabled for future discussion

Approved Charter Schools 

LindquistExalt Academy of Southwest Little Rock: Exalt Academy will be opened by Exalt Education, Inc., which has one school in Arkansas — Little Rock Preparatory Academy (K – 8). In the 2014-15 school year, Exalt Academy will serve 180 students in grades K – 3. Exalt Academy will add one grade per year through 8th grade to serve 540 students. Exalt Academy will run on an extended day and extended year schedule. Exalt Academy states that it seeks to work with students from low-income backgrounds “to prepare for competitive colleges and advanced careers.” (Ben Lindquist, Executive Director pictured to the right)

WhatisCharterThumbQuest Middle School of West Little Rock: Quest Middle School will be opened by ResponsiveEd Solutions, a national charter network with over 60 charter schools in Texas. Currently, ResponsiveEd operates three charter schools in Arkansas: Quest Middle School of Pine Bluff, Premier High School of Little Rock, and Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy in Bentonville. All three charter schools opened during the present school year (2013-14). Quest Middle School of West Little Rock has been accepted to serve students in grades 6 – 12 with an enrollment cap of 490. In the 2014-15 school year, Quest Middle School will open with 220 students in grades 6 – 8 and add one grade per year. When Quest Middle School presented in front of the Charter Authorizing Panel, a group of parents from West Little Rock were in attendance to voice support for the school. Quest boosts that it will provide “innovative, encouraging, character-based, individualized learning environment, where they are academically successful and develop into lifelong learners.”

Denied Charter School Proposals

Capitol City Lighthouse Charter School, North Little Rock, AR: Capitol City Lighthouse was proposed by the national network, Lighthouse Academies. Lighthouse Academies operates three charter schools in Arkansas: Jacksonville Lighthouse, Jacksonville Flightline, and Pine Bluff Lighthouse. Capitol City Lighthouse proposed to serve students in grades K – 12 (750 enrollment cap), starting with 344 students in grades K – 6. The Charter Authorizing Panel denied Lighthouse for reasons including: curriculum concerns–particularly in math–and lack of academic gains by the other Lighthouse campuses in the state. Capitol City Lighthouse was denied in a 5-1 vote.

Ozark College and Career Academy, Springdale, AR: Ozark College and Career Academy proposed to operate a K-12 charter school with 250 students. The charter sought to serve students in grades K-2 and 6-8 in 2014-15 and to add two grades per year in subsequent years. Ozark College and Career Academy proposed to teach students through a Montessori-based Early Childhood Program and through project-based learning in upper grade levels. The Charter Authorizing Panel denied Ozark College and Career Academy for reasons including: concerns with the details of curriculum (particularly at the high school) and uncertainties involving the budget. The charter was denied in a 5-1 vote; however, many members of the Panel expressed that they would like to see Ozark College and Career Academy return next year with an amended proposal.

Redfield Tri-County Charter School, Redfield, AR: Redfield Tri-County Charter School proposed to operate a school with 175 students in grades 5 – 8 in 2014-15. The White Hall School District closed Redfield Middle School at the end of the 2012-13 school year; and so, Redfield Tri-County Charter School sought to open a middle school in the town. The charter was denied in a 6-0 vote for reasons including: budget concerns and issues with curriculum plans. However, many members of the Panel expressed that they would like to see the  return next year with an amended proposal (indeed, many Panel members commended the efforts of the applicants on behalf of students and families in small districts).

Tabled Charter School Proposals

Young Adult Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy of South Mississippi County (Osceola, AR) and Young Adult Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy of Crittenden County (Sunset, AR): The Young Adult Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies are seeking to open drop-out recovery charter schools to serve students in grades 9 – 12. The schools are proposed by a charter network, Magic Johnson Bridgescape, which operates 17 charter schools in 5 states. Both proposed charters were tabled by the Charter Authorzing Panel, citing issues with waivers from the state-regulated 38 credit units and issues with alternative learning environment (ALE) status. The Authorizing Panel will rehear the proposals soon — we will keep you updated on when the hearing will take place.

Analysis

From the viewpoint of the OEP (where we have observed several years of charter hearings), this new charter Panel appeared to ask different types of questions than did the State Board in prior years.  Perhaps because several members of the Panel are former school district leaders with many years of experience running schools, the applicants were asked numerous detailed questions in the areas of curricular options, Smart Core requirements, and school budgets.  It appears that the Panel members viewed proposals more favorably if the applicants were able to:

  • Clearly articulate curricular plans, operational details, and potential student body;
  • Show that the school would offer an innovative model that is not currently available; and/or
  • Demonstrate a compelling need in the community for an alternative to the traditional system, ideally by bringing actual parents who are seeking alternative schooling options

These are simply our hypotheses about what the new Charter Authorizing Panel is looking for. In future years, we will test our theories by seeing if future charter applicants that follow these guidelines are granted  charters. 

What’s Next

In January, the Panel will hear from four proposed district-conversion charter schools in Fountain Lake School District, Pea Ridge School District, Warren School District, and West Memphis School District. As there is no cap on the number of district-conversion charter schools, all four could be passed by the Panel. We will keep you posted on these hearings in January.

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