A bill that would make the Department of Education, rather than the State Board of Education, the authorizer for granting and revoking charter school status passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1528 by Rep. Mark Biviano (R-Searcy) passed on a voice vote with no one voting against the proposal. It has already passed the House.

Under the bill, a panel created by the Department of Education would make decisions on charter school applications in a public hearing, with the governor-appointed State Board of Education empowered to review and reverse those decisions. Currently, an ADE committee makes recommendations to the State Board, which makes the final decision on all applications.

Charter schools are public schools granted more flexibility to experiment with educational techniques than traditional schools. Some in the Legislature have been frustrated by what they see as a reluctance by the State Board to approve new charters. Biviano argued that the bill would allow a more focused review of charter school applications than currently occurs.

The bill was supported by both the Department of Education and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Dr. Richard Abernathy, AAEA executive director, testified that the change would streamline the charter school application process.

It grew from an earlier proposal by Biviano, House Bill 1040, that would have set up a new charter school commission to approve or revoke charter school status. The commission would have had the power to take over low-performing schools and turn them into charter schools. That proposal failed after running into heavy opposition from traditional education supporters such as the Arkansas Education Association.

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Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics. He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers. You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.