The Arkansas Board of Education voted Friday to uphold earlier decisions approving one charter school in west Little Rock and denying another charter in rural Jefferson County.
The members voted 6-2 to affirm a Nov. 14, 2013, decision from the Charter Authorizing Panel to allow Quest Middle School of West Little Rock at a planned site on Rahling Road.
The Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts contested the application, telling the board Friday that the Quest budget was based on incorrect projections on how many of its students would be eligible for free- and reduced-price school meals.
Chris Heller, an attorney for the Little Rock district, added that curriculum planned by Responsive Education, the group that proposed the Quest school, wasn't notably different or more innovative than existing schools offer. And, he said, the charter school could complicate Little Rock's efforts to build a new middle school in west Little Rock.
But Responsive Education officials said the school is projected to have a small surplus even if it reduces the number of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunches to 35 percent of its population. Responsive Ed has had financial and academic successes in Texas and in Pine Bluff, where a Quest Middle School opened last year, the officials said.
"We are fully committed as an organization and as a group ..., to the financial and academic success of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock," Chief Financial Officer James Taylor told the board.
Quest is expected to open in the fall, serving 220 students in its first year.
Supporters of the Redfield Tri-County Charter School addressed the state board earlier Friday, asking the body to overturn the unanimous Nov. 14, 2013, vote by the Charter Authorizing Panel to deny the application for that charter.
The board last month agreed to reconsider the application after supporters said some members of the authorizing panel were looking at the wrong budget at that November meeting.
Amanda Kight, secretary for the school's board of directors, said the proposed grades-fifth-through-12th school is financially viable and a needed addition to a rural community where some students are now bused 20 miles to school.
That means many parents now have neither the time nor money to be regularly involved with the school and it means lengthy travel times for students, Kight said.
"Families are looking for an opportunity for their children to attend a school closer to home," Kight said, saying it would create a "much more rewarding learning experience."
Some board members said the curriculum plan — described at the meeting as being focused on college and career readiness — needs to be further developed. The body ultimately voted 7-1 to uphold the panel's earlier decision.
"I really do hope we will see you all again next year," board member Mireya Reith said.
"You will," Kight replied.