Policy Documents

How To Unshackle Charter Schools

Brian Kisida and Michael Q. McShane –
February 23, 2011


The popularity of charter schools – public schools free from some regulations, but accountable for student outcomes – has never been higher. Charter schools are flourishing in the 40 states that allow them, serving about 1.5 million students nationwide; parents and policymakers across the political spectrum have embraced them. However, Arkansas law still limits the number of open-enrollment charter schools to 24. Arkansas policymakers should lighten the burden that our charter school cap creates.



The current limit accomplishes nothing.

 When the General Assembly passed the state’s first open-enrollment charter law in 1999, there was understandable skepticism about their approval process and educational impact. However, twelve years later, there are only 18 open-enrollment charter schools in operation – though the maximum allowable number is capped at 24. The cap’s irrelevance to any policy goal was underscored by the state Department of Education’s recent entry in the federal "Race to the Top" competition. The Department, aware that any cap would hurt Arkansas’s score (and its chance for funding), inserted the following language:


"As of the date of this submission, no applicant for an Open-enrollment charter has had its application denied due to the existing "cap" of 24. While no applicant, State, or State agency can guarantee the future adoption of any type of legislation, we anticipate that, as has occurred in the past, when the number of high-performing Open-enrollment charters approaches the current "cap" the question of increasing or eliminating the cap to accommodate additional high-performing Charters will be given serious consideration."