Thursday, March 17, 2016

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – There are five available slots for new open-enrollment charter schools in Arkansas, according to the state Education Commissioner.
            The Education Department had received 12 letters of intent from organizations that are interested in applying for one of the open slots.
            Now, there are 22 active open-enrollment charter schools in operation and two more have been approved to begin classes in the fall. That means there will be 24 open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas in the 2016-2017 school year. 
Under current state law, the limit on the total number of charter schools increases by five whenever the number of active charters is within two of the existing cap. That threshold has been reached, so the statewide limit will increase from 24 to 29, according to a memo from the Education Commissioner.
The letters of intent are from groups interested in opening charter schools in Pine Bluff, Marion, Fayetteville, Little Rock, North Little Rock, De Queen, Paron and Redfield. Five of the proposed charter schools would be in Pulaski County. There are 12 open-enrollment charter schools already in Pulaski County; several have more than one campus and offer classes from kindergarten through grade 12.
The deadline for submitting the letters of intent was March 1 and the deadline for submitting the final applications will be April 28.
Another type of charter is known as a district conversion because the local school district operates it. Currently, 18 school districts operate conversion charters. The state Education Department has received letters of intent for new conversion charters from 14 school districts.
The deadline for school districts to submit their final applications for conversion charters is August 4.
Charter schools are free from many regulations that govern traditional public schools. However, the charter schools are responsible for meeting academic standards and for keeping their finances in order. The term “charter” often is used in education circles as if it meant “contract.” 
The state Education Department grants charters for five-year periods; after five years the schools must apply for renewal of their charter.
If approved by the state, the new charters could open for the 2017-2018 school year.
State Aid City Street Funds
            The State Aid Street Committee has proposed its criteria for grants that will be awarded in its 2017 funding cycle. Grants will be limited to $250,000 for overlay projects and $400,000 for design projects. If a bid exceeds the cap, the city must agree to pay the extra amount.
            In 2012 Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment that temporarily raised the sales tax for highways. The amendment also permanently dedicated revenue from one cent of the existing motor fuels tax to the State Aid City Street Fund. Since its inception, the fund has paid $75.6 million for 335 overlay projects.
As of March 1 the committee had received 101 new requests from Arkansas cities.
            Also, contracts for 237projects have been awarded. They are for $56 million, of which $50.6 million came from the Street Aid Fund. To date, 225 of those projects have been completed. They are for improvements to 365 miles of road. 
On March 23 the Highway Department will open bids for 24 new projects and on May 11 for 27 new projects to be funded from the State Aid City Street Program.

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