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story.lead_photo.caption A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

Open-enrollment and conversion charter schools that have a history of repeatedly earning F and D letter grades from the state drew the attention of the state's Charter Authorizing Panel at a brief meeting last week.

The panel asked the state Division of Elementary and Secondary Education staff to assemble more information -- including written explanations and improvement plans -- from the struggling charter systems and achievement data from nearby schools and districts. The panel will use that information to decide in December what school leaders should be called in for further investigation of their problems.

Schools of particular concern at the Tuesday meeting were Blytheville area public schools and the five-campus KIPP Delta charter system that is headquartered in Helena-West Helena. The KIPP system has been held in the past as a model charter school system but, in recent years and with one campus exception, has consistently earned Ds.

There are as many as 13 open-enrollment charter school campuses and up to seven school district-conversion charter schools that have F and D grades.

Examining the schools is complicated by the fact that the state did not administer the ACT Aspire exams last spring because school campuses were closed to help contain the spread of covid-19. As a result, state-issued letter grades come from the 2018-19 school year.

Naccaman Williams of Springdale, a charter panel member, referred to the covid-19 impact on students and schools as "the elephant in the living room sitting on the couch."

4 charter schools getting subgrants

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center has awarded Charter School Program subgrants to four district-conversion charter schools in Arkansas.

The recipient charter school plans, all approved by the Arkansas Board of Education earlier this month, are:

• Academies at Rivercrest: $625,000.

• Batesville Charter High School: $527,425.12.

• Cave City Middle School and Collegiate Preparatory: $253,978.11.

• Vilonia Pathways Academy: $625,000.

Each school will have the opportunity to receive additional Charter School Program funding in the amount of $625,000 if at least 60% of the students they serve qualify for free or reduced-price lunches once their student populations are established.

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center's grant program is intended to increase the number of high-quality charter schools and conversion charter schools with an emphasis on those that serve educationally disadvantaged students. The grants are also meant to improve student outcomes and disseminate best practices.

Schools, districts to receive $5.5M

A total of 128 schools and districts are to receive $5.5 million in Successful Outcomes for Arkansas Readers grants through the Arkansas Department of Education.

An additional $1.2 million will go to the Arkansas Imagination Library, an affiliate of entertainer/musician Dolly Parton's Imagination Library that provides free books to families of young children.

The $5.5 million is the first-year distribution from the U.S. Department of Education's five-year grant of $38 million to Arkansas to improve literacy outcomes for students in prekindergarten through 12th grades. Ninety-five percent of the funds will be distributed to schools, districts and community partners.

The first-year recipient 128 schools and districts -- including schools in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jonesboro, Hot Springs and Pine Bluff -- are listed at the following link: https://bit.ly/3nwdXFh.

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