Arkansas

lead image

Arkansas

1995
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
73
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
29,400
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
141
out of
240
Total Score

Download the 1-Pager

Download Now

While Arkansas’ law has a cap on charter public school growth, it is structured in a way that allows ample growth. Although the state law provides adequate accountability provisions, it includes only a single authorizing path and provides inadequate autonomy and inequitable funding to charter schools.

Potential areas for improvement include creating additional authorizing options, increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable operational funding, further ensuring equitable access to capital funding and facilities, ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

Arkansas law provides that an unlimited number of conversion charter schools may exist. Arkansas law provides that the number of open enrollment charters that are allowed automatically increases by five each time the number of schools comes within two slots of the cap, which is initially set at 24.
The law provides that an open enrollment charter school may not open in the service area of a public school district administratively reorganized under state law until after the third year of the administrative reorganization.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
Yes
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

Arkansas law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Arkansas law requires conversion charter schools to be approved by the local school board and the state department of education. It allows new start-up charter school applications (known as open enrollment charter schools in the state) to be reviewed by the local school board prior to review by the state department of education. However, it provides that the local school board’s approval or denial has no binding effect on the state department’s decision.
The law allows a charter applicant, public charter school, and affected school district to submit in writing a request that the state board review the final decision by the department. The law provides that the state board of education may exercise a right of review of a charter determination made by the department on a motion approved by a majority vote. If the state board votes to review a final decision made by the department, the state board may decide by majority vote of the quorum to affirm the decision of the department, take other lawful action on the public charter, or request additional information from the department, public charter school, public charter school applicant, or affected school district.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

Arkansas law requires the state department of education to conduct an annual evaluation of all open-enrollment charter schools, with core elements detailed including student scores, attendance, grades, discipline incidents, socioeconomic data, parent and student satisfaction, and compliance with reporting requirements.
Arkansas law requires the authorizer to report to the General Assembly each biennium and to the House Interim Committee on Education and the Senate Interim Committee on Education during the interim between regular sessions of the General Assembly: the status of the open-enrollment public charter school programs and a summary of the aurhotizing activities in the preceding year, including without limitation the number and type of charters approved, dnied, and amended.

The ability of the state department of education to continue authorizing can be removed by the Arkansas legislature and governor (the entities that gave it that authority).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
Yes
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Yes
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Yes
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
Yes
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Arkansas law includes a small number of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding. State law requires all state agency expenditures, including those by the state department of education (the state’s authorizer), to be publicly reported on a state website.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
Yes
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
No
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
No
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

Arkansas law and regulation include details regarding petition application contents and processes for all schools. They also include additional application elements specific to conversion schools and replications.
Arkansas law provides detailed timelines regarding the core aspects of the charter application, review, and decision-making process, including application requirements, approval criteria, an in-person interview, and a public meeting.

Arkansas law requires that decisions regarding approvals must be made in a public meeting and that denials of charter applications must be in writing and include reasons for such disapproval. It requires decisions about open enrollment charter schools to involve a hearing with the state department, including in-person testimony and questions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
Yes
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
Yes
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
No
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
Yes
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
Yes
6F
Application approval criteria.
Yes
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

Arkansas law requires that the charter must be in the form of a written contract signed by the state commissioner of education and the chief operating officer of the charter school, but there is no requirement that the charter school governing board sign it.
Arkansas law includes a long list of charter contract contents focused on school responsibilities, but nothing regarding roles and responsibilities of the authorizer.

Arkansas law specifies that the charter contract provides that the continuation or renewal of the charter is contingent on acceptable student performance on assessment instruments adopted by the state board and on compliance with any accountability provisions specified within the charter. It also provides that the charter contract must establish the level of student performance that is considered acceptable for continuance and renewal, but it does not define academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework with a minimum set of essential measures and metrics.

Arkansas law provides that the initial term of a charter is five years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Some
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
Some
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Yes
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

Arkansas law and regulations require that open-enrollment charter schools submit their scores for all students enrolled for standardized assessments to the state department of education within ten calendar days of the close of the fourth quarter of each school year. They also require the state department to conduct an annual evaluation of all charter schools, with core elements detailed including student scores, attendance, grades, discipline incidents, socioeconomic data, parent and student satisfaction, on-site monitoring, and other terms of the school’s charter.
Arkansas law provides that charter schools are subject to the same auditing and accounting requirements as any other public school district, including an annual fiscal audit.

Arkansas law and regulation allow authorizers to conduct or require oversight activities.

While the law does not require authorizers to produce and publish annual school performance reports aligned with the performance framework set forth in each charter, it does require each charter school to provide an annual report to parents, the community, and the authorizer.

Arkansas law provides the authorizer with the authority to require charter schools to appear before it to discuss the results of the state department's annual evaluation and to present further information as needed. It requires the authorizer to notify the charter school of any concerns and allows schools to request a hearing on these concerns. It also provides the authorizer with the authority to modify a charter, place it on probation, revoke, or deny renewal.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Yes
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
Yes
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
Yes
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

Arkansas law requires the state department of education to conduct an annual evaluation of all charter schools, with core elements detailed including student scores, attendance, grades, discipline incidents, socioeconomic data, parent and student satisfaction, compliance with statutory reporting requirements, and other terms of the school’s charter.
Arkansas regulations state that each charter school must apply for renewal of its charter using a form and timeline prescribed by the state department of education's charter school office.

Arkansas law and regulations outline a transparent process for review and renewal and provide criteria for non-renewal. In addition, they require each charter school to establish the level of student performance that is considered acceptable for continuation or renewal.

Arkansas law provides that the terms of the renewal may be one year or multi-year, allowing up to five years for conversion charter schools and up to 20 years for open enrollment charter schools.

Arkansas law allows authorizers to revoke or deny renewal of a charter school and specifies that any decision made by an authorizer regarding the status of a school must be grounded in the best interest of students.

Arkansas law requires the authorizer to notify via certified mail of alleged violations of the school’s charter contract. As provided by Arkansas law, due process procedures include an opportunity for a hearing to the persons operating the charter school and to the parents of students enrolled in the school.

Arkansas law requires that all charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions be made in a public meeting, with the state board stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

Arkansas law and regulation detail information regarding school non-renewal or revocation issues in relation to disbursement of assets, parent notification, and student and record transitions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
Yes
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
Yes
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
Yes
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
Yes
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Yes
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Yes
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Yes
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
N/A
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Arkansas law is silent regarding these arrangements. There is nothing explicit in law that prevents schools from contracting with educational service providers to operate a school nor guides the authorizer in their review of such provisions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
No
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
No
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
No
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
No
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
No
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

Kansas law provides that charter schools operate as an “independent public school” within a school district, with the governance structure as defined in their charter contract with the local school board. However, statute does not provide for any level of fiscal or legal autonomy, nor does it require an independent board to govern the school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Some
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
Some
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

Arkansas law requires open enrollment charter schools to be open to all students in the state and conversion charter schools to be open to all students in the district.
Arkansas law prohibits discrimination in admissions policy.

State law provides that prior year students who wish to continue in attendance at their open enrollment charter school do not have to go through the application and lottery process.

Arkansas law allows open enrollment schools to provide an enrollment preference for children of the founding members and children of full-time employees and teachers (although these cannot exceed 10% of the school’s enrollment) and siblings of children in the school. It does not require enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversion charter schools.

It also allows a weighted lottery to be used when necessary to comply with legally required desegregation efforts.

Arkansas law requires charter schools to use a random anonymous student selection method if interest exceeds capacity.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
Some
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

Arkansas law does not grant any automatic exemptions. Instead, it requires each charter application to identify specific exemptions desired and request those as part of the application process, including any requested exemptions to teacher certification requirements.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
Some
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

Arkansas law provides that open enrollment charter schools are exempt from participation in school district personnel policies, but that conversion charter schools are bound by school district personnel policies.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
No
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

Arkansas law makes it clear that each charter contract covers a single school site. However, it allows high-performing open enrollment charter schools to petition the authorizer for licenses to establish additional sites on existing charter contracts, with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each site.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
No
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

Arkansas law is silent about charter eligibility and access.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
No
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

Arkansas law provides that districts are the LEAs for special education purposes for conversion charter schools and that charter schools are the LEAs for special education purposes for open enrollment charter schools. It also allows both types of charter schools to apply for additional categorical special education funds to help cover low-incident, high-cost special education services.
While it does not explicitly identify special education funding, Arkansas law does designate the state as responsible for allocating any designated funding to public charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
Some
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
Yes
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
No
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

Per Arkansas law, a conversion charter school receives funds equal to the amount apportioned by the district from state and local revenue per average daily membership.
Per Arkansas law, an open enrollment charter school receives funds equal to the amount that a public school would receive, as well as any other funding that the public charter school is entitled to receive under law. In reality, traditional districts are allowed to levy mileages (i.e., property taxes) that open enrollment schools don’t have access to.

In reference to transportation, Arkansas law provides charter schools the same per pupil base amount for transportation as public school districts.

In a recent national study of charter school funding (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, 2014), Arkansas charter schools were receiving on average $7,451 per pupil in public funds, while traditional public schools would have received $11,441 for those students. As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $3,990 per pupil - or 34.8% - less than what the traditional public schools would have received for those students. This figure includes all sources of funding, and analysis reveals significant inequities for both operational and capital funding (see component #19 for information on capital issues).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
Some
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Arkansas law creates the open enrollment public charter school facilities funding aid program and authorizes up to $20 million in funding to this program. The state appropriated $5 million in funding to this program in 2015 and $5 million to it in 2016.
Arkansas law creates an open enrollment public charter school capital grant program. However, the state has not provided funding to this program.

Arkansas law creates an open enrollment public charter school facilities loan fund. However, the state has not provided funding to this program.

Arkansas law provides that a school district or public charter school may enter into public-private partnerships whereby the school district or public charter school enters into a lease-purchase agreement for the acquisition or construction of a school building or related facilities built or acquired by the private entities with facilities bonds exempt from federal taxes.

Arkansas law requires each school district to annually identify all unused or underutilized facilities to the Arkansas Department of Education. The law allows public charter schools to lease or purchase a school district’s unused or underutilized facilities for fair-market value. It gives public charter schools a right of first refusal to purchase for fair-market value a facility that a district intends to sell. It also gives the school district a right of first refusal to purchase a facility back if the charter school ceases to use the facility.

Arkansas law does not explicitly allow or deny contracting with a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entitiy for the use of facility for a school building. It does explicitly allow charter schools to contract with a school district for the use of a facility.

The state constitution exempts all buildings used exclusively for school use from ad valorem taxation. This exemption applies equally to charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
No
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
Yes
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
No
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
Yes
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
No
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
Some
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
Yes
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

Arkansas law requires certified staff within open enrollment and conversion charter schools to participate in the state retirement system.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
Some
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Arkansas law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools. The law provides that full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may only be approved by the state department of education.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
No
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
No
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
No
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
No
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
No
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.