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Arkansas charter schools fall in national ranking

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Charter schools in Arkansas, once ranked as the 17th best in the nation, have dropped eight places, according to a study released Wednesday (Jan. 29) by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

While the drop to 25th in the nation might seem drastic, the public may be surprised to know the overall rating for schools actually increased, showing a 2013 score of 122 points versus a 2012 score of 113 points out of an available 228, using a methodology developed by NAPCS.

A press release from NAPCS explained the reason for the drop despite the year over year increase in scores.

"Most states' drop in the rankings had more to do with the substantive changes made in other states rather than any steps backwards in these states," the release said.

Laurie Lee, executive director of A+ Arkansas, said while she had not yet had an opportunity to read the study released today, the change in rankings showed why reform was needed in the education system in Arkansas.

"I just know that we have got to have some out of the box thinking with how we look at education in our state because it's not working," she said.

Lee said charter schools operating in Arkansas were among the best schools in the state. She cited the example of Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, explaining that one of her daughters attended the school, which she said addressed the "totality" of individual students.

"They are allowed to think outside of the box on curriculum," Lee said.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, there are two different types of charter schools.

Open enrollment schools, such as Haas Hall, totaled only 18 schools across the state. District-conversion schools, which are charter schools within the organizational structure of a standard school district, total only 14 across the state.

No matter the type of charter school, funding levels for each student remained the same, according to Arkansans for Education Reform executive director Luke Gordy.

"They are funded similarly to traditional schools in that they get the same amount of money for their students, like $6,800 a kid," he said.

Gordy said charter schools also participate in other programs, such as free and reduced lunch funding.

Lee, whose organization hosted a rally featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) at the state capital in Little Rock this morning, said expanding charter schools was of utmost importance so more Arkansans could experience the same opportunity as her daughter.

"For Arkansas to survive, we need to be able to attract businesses with a more educated populous," she said. "I think that charter schools are part of the solution."

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She said she hoped the rally would start a conversation on education.

"It was to ask people — parents, legislators, educators — to come to the table to have real discussions on how to reform education in the state of Arkansas."

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