FOUNDATION EDUCATION REFORMS
APPROVED BY POLICYMAKERS
“Demand intellectual honesty and complete openness in reporting academic progress and "the state" of public education, this to be implemented through a comprehensive public school accountability system … (and) broaden Arkansas' inadequate charter school law to allow for the development of new start-up charter schools.” Policy Foundation, Murphy Commission project, 1998.
(April 2011) Policy Foundation education reform recommendations that date to the 1998 Murphy Commission were approved by the General Assembly in the recently-concluded session and signed into law by the governor. They include expansion of charter schools, a broader school choice policy, and a measure to allow more children and parents to take advantage of Arkansas virtual education.
Charter School Expansion: Public Act 987 of 2011 removes the cap on the number of open enrollment charter schools permitted in Arkansas. The current statewide cap is 24 charter schools. Under the measure, the charter cap will increase by five each time the number of Arkansas charters approaches the cap.
PA 993 of 2011 also provides for expansion under the Arkansas Charter School Act. Currently, open enrollment charters must be renewed for a term not to exceed five years. The measure gives the state Board of Education the authority to renew a charter on “a one-year or multiyear basis, not to exceed twenty (20) years.” It eliminates the requirement for a petition supporting “an open-enrollment public charter school signed by a specified number of parents or guardians of school-age children residing in the area in which an open-enrollment public charter school is proposed,” and removes the board’s authority to “hold a public hearing to determine parental support” for the charter.
School Choice: PA 1124 of 2011 amends the Arkansas Opportunity Public School Choice Act (2004) to ensure that all school children can "choice out" of a school that does not serve them. This parental option was limited by an earlier General Assembly after the state Supreme Court ruled in the Lake View school finance case.
Arkansas Virtual Education: The General Assembly’s authority to oversee the Arkansas Virtual Academy, a K-8 charter, has been transferred to the state Board of Education. The Assembly capped Virtual Academy student enrollment at 500 in 2007, and rejected a proposal to increase the cap to 1,000 in the 2009 session. The Academy has a statewide waiting list of more than 800 students.
The Policy Foundation’s third Road Map for Arkansas Prosperity recommended repealing the Virtual Academy’s student cap as part of an effort to market the Telecommunications component of Arkansas’ Information sector to world markets. The report was released in November 2010.