Dispelling Myths About Open Enrollment Charter Schools in Arkansas

By Dr. Mavuto Kalulu

Arkansas offers two types of public charter schools for students seeking an alternative to traditional public schools. Conversion charter schools, first authorized in 1995, are public schools that are converted to charter schools. They have more autonomy than traditional public schools while still remaining under the school district’s control. Only students residing in a school district the conversion charter school is located in are allowed to attend.

Open enrollment charter schools, first authorized in 1999, are newly developed, publicly funded schools that are run independently by a government entity or a nonsectarian organization. As the name suggest, open enrollment charter schools are authorized to enroll students from anywhere in the state. The state grants them more autonomy than traditional public schools in return for greater accountability for performance. For example, the KIPP Delta schools in Helena–West Helena are exempted from the state requirements on start and end dates. The law requires that public schools open no earlier than August 19 and no later than August 26. For the 2016–17 school year, KIPP Delta schools started school on August 3. Its school calendar year has over 190 days compared to 178 days for the neighboring Helena-West Helena School District. Among other advantages, the extended school year coupled with extended school days allows KIPP Delta schools to have more time for activities like field trips and college visits without sacrificing classroom instructional time. Charter schools that don’t meet performance goals deemed appropriate for the charter school by the authorizer must close.

Charter schools are created to provide quality alternative learning and teaching environments, as required by the Arkansas Quality Charter Schools Act of 2013. People often debate whether charter schools are better than traditional public schools. What they overlook is that the two alternatives could actually complement each other, helping to achieve the goal of improving the academic performance of all students in Arkansas by acknowledging differences among students’ needs and learning styles. While some students may thrive in traditional public schools, others may not, and providing them with an alternative learning environment can help them to perform better.

Debates about whether charter schools or traditional public schools are superior often contain inaccurate information. In the blog posts to follow, the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics will examine some of the most common inaccuracies. Using data from the Arkansas Department of Education and empirical studies by academic scholars, we will dispel the following myths about open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas. We focus on open enrollment charter schools because unlike conversion charter schools, open enrollment charter schools operate independently of the school districts and draw students out of the school districts. Here are the myths that we will discuss:

Myth 1: Open enrollment charter schools don’t enroll many black or Hispanic students.

Myth 2: Education outcomes at open enrollment charter schools are worse than those at traditional public schools.

Myth 3: Open enrollment charter schools hire underqualified teachers.

Myth 4: Open enrollment charter schools receive more public funding than traditional public schools.

Myth 5: Traditional public schools will be forced to shut down because they can’t compete with open enrollment charter schools.