Guide to School Choice in Arkansas

By: National School Choice Week Team

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Arkansas parents, this post is for you. Each year you face one of the biggest decisions you can ever make for your child: Where they attend school. Knowing all your options in Arkansas can help you select the best fit for your family.

There are a variety of school choices available to Arkansas families, and you can find one where your child is eager to attend and actively learning. You can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

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Arkansas Traditional Public Schools

Most families in Arkansas choose traditional public schools for their child. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Did you know that Arkansas spends about $11,951 per public school pupil each year?

In Arkansas, the state has limited open enrollment laws. “Open enrollment” refers to whether parents are allowed to send their child to any public school, regardless of where it is located. In Arkansas, there are some limits on open enrollment, but families may be able to transfer to a public school beyond their neighborhood school. Open enrollment can be a valuable way for you to have options within the public school system; you can visit multiple public schools and decide which is best for your family. If you would like to participate in open enrollment, contact your local district.

Arkansas Charter Schools

Additionally, you can consider charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. In 2017-2018, Arkansas had about 80 public charter schools for parents to choose from. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.

In Arkansas there are both conversion schools and open-enrollment schools. Conversion schools are traditional public schools that have converted to charter schools. They only serve students within their district. Open-enrollment charter schools are run by a governmental entity, higher learning organization, or non-sectarian organization and can draw students from various districts.

As Arkansas.gov puts it, “Beyond the two basic types of charters, the concepts put in place by a public charter school are as broad as the imagination.” For one example of what charter schools offer Arkansas families, check out our conversation with LISA Academy a system of high-performing STEM charter schools. Another Arkansas charter school we talked to, Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy, makes classical education available to families in a free, public school environment.

Arkansas Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are another options. These are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. A magnet school teaches all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. Arkansas has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state, and these might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about.

Arkansas Private Schools

Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Arkansas’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs.
Arkansas has a state-run scholarship program called the Succeed Scholarship Program for children with special needs; this can help eligible families afford private school tuition. In 2018-2019 there were 260 Arkansas students using the Succeed Scholarship.

Arkansas Online Learning

There are many reasons to give online learning a try, from sports schedules to bullying issues to medical needs.

Arkansas offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, like Arkansas Connections Academy and Arkansas Virtual Academy. For part-time classes, Virtual Arkansas offers online options for any Arkansas student, though online classes for students in grades K-6 are limited. Students enrolled in a public school can take all or some of their Virtual Arkansas classes online. While Virtual Arkansas’ website lists fees for courses, the local school district pays those, not students and their families.

Arkansas Homeschooling

Parents can also choose homeschooling! Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home. As both technology and school choices have spread in Arkansas, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice. Check here for resources about homeschooling specific to Arkansas.

 

Education Resources for Arkansas Parents

For additional information about school choices in Arkansas, visit these resources:

Arkansas’ Department of Education
The Arkansas Charter Schools Association
Arkansas Families for Home Education

 School Choice Celebrations in Alabama

National School Choice Week 2020 will take place January 26 – February 1, 2020. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Click here for ideas, inspiration, and more information! 

Arkansas will celebrate National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 748 events and activities across the state. Learn more about some of these celebrations at schoolchoiceweek.com/states/arkansas/.

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