Report Calls For AR Charter School Law Reform

Arkansas - An education group says Arkansas isn't making the grade when it comes to charter school laws.

The Center for Education Reform Gave the natural state a "D" on its Charter School Report Card. The group says more needs to be done to meet the growing demand for enrollment in charter schools.

The Benton County School of the Arts' Superintendent Paul Hines says state laws make it tough to start up new schools and renew charters.

"If Arkansas is going to be competitive on the national level, especially in charterdom (sic), there needs to be a need to step up some of the restrictive perceptions across the state," he says. "I think by far Arkansas could have a more welcoming environment regarding charter schools."

BCSA is one of three open enrollment charter schools in Northwest Arkansas.

'What we try to hang our hat on is the integration of the arts," Hines says. Children can start in grade five and take five days a week individual guitar lessons till they graduate senior year, or orchestra or dance or drama."

Hines says the Rogers and Bentonville school districts support the school.

"We've always enjoyed a tremendous relationship with Rogers and Bentonville," he says. "88 percent of our students live in those two districts, and I've never experienced any animosity."

But in other parts of the state tensions run high. Some see the charters as a way for parents to move kids out of lower performing schools, rather than helping to improve those public districts.

"We have a unique situation in Northwest Arkansas because we have such high quality schools," Hines says. "There's 18, 19 public schools in Northwest Arkansas, they're all good schools, great schools, academically challenging schools. The Little Rock area, Arkadelphia area might be a different perception."

Hines says those tensions are reflected in the state's charter renewal process.

"Sometimes you run into issues that can somewhat stymie you," he says. "We were renewed in April 2012 for 3 years. Prior to that it had been five years... It's difficult to determine what the criteria is when you have done everything you are asked to do at the state level as far as reporting and long term strategic planning and you get a 3 year renewal."

He says the state's policies and procedures should be changed, adding funding for facilities and making it easier to increase student caps.

"There needs to be a healthier environment across the nation as well as in Arkansas for charter schools," he says.

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