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Arkansas Charter Schools: Myths and Facts

Charter schools are a way to provide an alternative to traditional public schools by providing an independent school, not run by the government or a nonsectarian organization, that still receives public funds. However, there are some misconceptions and some myths surrounding charter schools, such as how they are organized and how they perform. The policy brief Arkansas Charter Schools: Myths and Facts, written by ACRE Policy Analyst Mavuto Kalulu, examines the evidence for five of these myths using data from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and other empirical studies.

The first myth examined is that open enrollment charter schools do not enroll many black or Hispanic students. The data actually shows that enrollment in charter schools by black and Hispanic students is actually 16 percentage points higher than in Arkansas public schools.

The second myth examined is that educational outcomes are worse at open enrollment charter schools compared to traditional public schools. Looking at both empirical studies and data from 2014-2016, it is clear that this is false. An empirical study conducted by University of Arkansas researchers showed that students at open enrollment perform better, even when accounting for factors such as student motivation and socioeconomic background. Test scores from 2014-2016 also show no significant difference in traditional public schools and open enrollment charters test scores.

The third myth is that open enrollment charters employ more underqualified teachers than traditional public schools. In actuality, 8 of the top 10 schools with the highest percentage of courses not taught by highly qualified teachers are traditional public schools.

The fourth myth is that open enrollment charter schools receive more funding than traditional public schools. However, charter schools actually receive less funding per pupil. Each public school is required to have a millage rate of at least 25 mills that goes to schools. This means that for every $1,000 dollars of property value you own, you pay $25 in property tax. If this millage increases over the 25 mills minimum for the district, every extra dollar only goes to the traditional public school. In addition to this, actual per pupil expenditure has been higher every year in traditional public schools compared to open enrollment charters for since 2006.

The last and fifth myth examined is that traditional public schools will be forced to shut down if they cannot compete with charter schools. Several empirical studies show that this is not true. They actually show the opposite; as more students attend open enrollment charter schools, test scores increase in the traditional public schools. This is true for studies conducted in Arkansas and other states.

Charter schools are a win-win for Arkansans. Both traditional public schools and open enrollment charters schools see increased performance when the charter schools are introduced. Many of the negative myths surrounding these charter schools are false. Healthy competition is a good thing for Arkansas schools and provides an incentive to improve outcomes for all students.

You can find more of our research related to this topic here.