Capitol Week in Review

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

With the opening of the 2019-2020 school year, there are 26 open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas.

Two new ones are scheduled to open this year in Pulaski County.

The state Charter School Authorizing Panel recently recommended approval of an application for a new school set to open in Bentonville in 2020-2021. When it opens, it will bring to 27 the total number of open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas.

Under state law, the limit on the number of open enrollment charters in Arkansas is 34. However, it would automatically increase by five schools once the total number of charters is within two of the limit. That means the limit will remain at 34 until there are 32 charters in the state.

The original cap for open enrollment charters schools was 24. Every year there are usually several applications to open new charters, but there also are regular closings of existing schools. Financial deficits and lack of students’ academic progress are cited as reasons for several of the closings.

Charter schools are public, and receive state aid. However, they are free from many of the regulations that govern traditional public schools. The charter under which they operate is like a performance contract, which outlines the schools mission and goals, as well as how many students it will educate and how it will assess academic progress.

There are two types of charter schools. Open enrollment charters are operated by non-profit organizations, government entities or institutions of higher education. They can draw students from across district boundaries.

The second type are conversion charters, which are operated by local school districts and which can only draw students from within the district’s boundaries.

In exchange for the greater freedom from regulations, charter schools agree to oversight from the state Board of Education.

Crisis Stabilization Units

In 2017 the legislature approved Act 423 to create four Crisis Stabilization Units, where police officers can bring people who behave erratically and may need immediate treatment for mental health issues. They are to have 16 beds.

Three units are open, in Washington County, Sebastian County and Pulaski County. The unit in Craighead County is under construction.

Act 423 also provides for expanded training of law enforcement officers in how to recognize and handle people who are going through a mental health crisis. Most people are admitted for up to 72 hours, but can stay longer under extreme circumstances.

One of the main goals of the units is to keep people with mental illness out of jails, where they will not have access to medication and where their conditions are likely to worsen.

The Criminal Justice Institute, which is connected with the University of Arkansas System, is offering online courses for police officers that teaches officers how to distinguish escalating levels of danger when they encounter a person undergoing a behavioral health crisis. The course keeps the safety of the officer as the top priority.

The course is nine hours and counts towards degrees offered by the Institute. The courses teach the new protocol that police should follow when dealing with people suffering a mental health crisis.