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Monday, April 21, 2014, 7:54 a.m.
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Board OKs review of one Little Rock charter school, denies another

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published December 16, 2013 at 12:07 p.m. Updated December 16, 2013 at 1:24 p.m.

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Exalt Education CEO Ben Lindquist speaks Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education.

The state Board of Education has voted not to review a decision to allow one new charter school in Little Rock, clearing the way for it to open, but to take a closer look at a second.

The Charter Authorizing Panel last month approved Exalt Academy of Southwest Little Rock just off Geyer Springs Road and Quest Middle School on Rahling Road in west Little Rock.

On Monday, the state board denied a request from the Little Rock School District to review the Exalt decision. But it voted 5-2 in favor of a review of Quest. That review hasn't been set, but it will come either at the board's January meeting or at a special meeting before then.

Ellen Smith, a lawyer representing the Little Rock School District, said the Quest application included an "inaccurate" economic model with regard to the percentage of students getting free and reduced lunch. Responsive Education Arkansas Director Edwin Strickland said the authorizing panel already presented a viable economic plan.

"We answered those questions," he said after Smith spoke. "[The authorizing panel] vetted our application very thoroughly."

Board member Samuel Ledbetter called the Quest application a "significant decision" that is worth further consideration.

"I'm not ready to judge this thing on its merits because I haven't heard its merits," he said before the vote.

Two board members, Diane Zook and Vicki Saviers, voted in favor of approving the panel's decision without further review.

Before the Exalt vote, Smith argued that a review was necessary because of concerns the district has about the "economic viability" of the school and its plans for growth.

But, Exalt Education CEO Ben Lindquist said, the authorizing panel did an "exceptionally diligent and rigorous job" in addressing those questions. He added the school's budget is "financially viable."

"It wasn't an easy process," he said of the panel's November approval. "They did a wonderful job."

The board then voted not to review the decision, allowing the school to open as the panel had authorized.

The board on Monday also voted not to review a denial of Ozark College and Career Academy, a charter school proposed for Springdale that had been voted down by the authorizing panel. And the board did approve a further review of the Redfield Tri-County Charter School in Redfield.

Amanda Kight, secretary for the school's board of directors, told the members the panel at one point considered the Redfield charter while looking at another charter's budget and that it didn't take into account an $85,000 donation the school has secured.

The board voted 5-2 in favor of that review.

The board meeting, which is ongoing, is being streamed live here.

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