The following FAQs are taken directly from the Arkansas Department of Education's website.
What is a charter school?
Charter schools are public schools that operate under a “charter,” or “charter contract” which frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools while holding them accountable for academic and financial results. The charter contract is between the charter school’s sponsoring entity and the Arkansas State Board of Education or the Commissioner of Education.
“Charter,” or “charter contract” means a performance-based contract for an initial five-year period between the authorizer and an approved applicant for public charter school status that exempts the public charter school from state and local rules, regulations, policies, and procedures specified in the contract and from the provisions of Title 6 of the Arkansas Code specified in the contract.
Source: Ark. Code Ann. § 6-23-103(2)
Why do parents choose charter schools?
Charter schools provide families a choice in the education of their children – and it is a public choice. Public tax dollars are the primary funding sources for charter schools. Local, state, and federal dollars follow the child to a charter school. The schools have open enrollment with no discrimination, no religious associations, and no tuition.
What is the legislative and regulatory intent behind charter schools?
It is the intent of the Arkansas General Assembly, and of these rules, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain public schools that operate independently from the existing structure of local school districts as a method to accomplish the following:
- Improve student learning;
- Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanding learning experiences for students who are identified as low-achieving;
- Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
- Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site;
- Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and
- Hold the schools established under this chapter accountable for meeting measurable student achievement standards.
Source: Ark. Code Ann. § 6-23-201
Who can start and open-enrollment charter school?
The following are considered eligible entities and may apply to the State Board of Education to create an open-enrollment charter school:
- A public institution of higher education;
- A private nonsectarian institution of higher education;
- A governmental entity; or
- An organization that is nonsectarian in its program, admissions policies, employment practices, and operations, and has applied for tax-exempt status under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The eligible entity must obtain status as a tax-exempt organization under § 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 prior to the first day of its operation with students.
Source: Ark. Code Ann. § 6-23-103(4)
What is the application process for establishing charter schools?
Although the annual timelines are different, the charter application process is the very similar for both open-enrollment and district conversion charter applicants and includes the following steps:
- The State Board of Education (SBE) approves the document to be used as an application
- Potential applicants submit letters of intent to apply for charters to staff at the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)
- ADE staff conducts a technical assistance conference
- Applicants submit their applications
- Applications are reviewed and evaluated, based on a rubric published as part of the application packet, by staff from various divisions at the ADE
- Applicants receive evaluations with comments from ADE staff
- Applicants respond to the comments and submit the responses
- ADE staff who reviewed and evaluated the original applications review responses and reevaluate
- The Charter Authorizing Panel interviews applicants and takes action on the applications in a public meeting
Do charter schools have admission policies?
Families must contact each individual charter school to see if they have openings. If they have more applicants than available slots, an open lottery must be instituted to fill the remaining slots and create a waiting list.
How are open-enrollment charter schools funded?
An open-enrollment public charter school shall receive funds equal to the amount that a public school would receive under § 6-20-2305(a) and (b) as well as any other funding that a public charter school is entitled to receive under law or under rules promulgated by the State Board of Education.
Source: Arkansas Charter Schools Act of 1999, Chapter 23, subchapter 5
See also: http://www.arkansased.gov/divisions/legal/legal-links - Arkansas Code