State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice

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LITTLE
ROCK – With the opening of the 2019-2020 school year, there are 26 open
enrollment charter schools in Arkansas.

Two
new ones are scheduled to open this year in Pulaski County.

The
state Charter School Authorizing Panel recently recommended approval of an
application for a new school set to open in Bentonville in 2020-2021. When it
opens, it will bring to 27 the total number of open enrollment charter schools
in Arkansas.

Under
state law, the limit on the number of open enrollment charters in Arkansas is
34. However, it would automatically increase by five schools once the total
number of charters is within two of the limit. That means the limit will remain
at 34 until there are 32 charters in the state.

The
original cap for open enrollment charters schools was 24. Every year there are
usually several applications to open new charters, but there also are regular
closings of existing schools. Financial deficits and lack of students’ academic
progress are cited as reasons for several of the closings.

Charter
schools are public, and receive state aid. However, they are free from many of
the regulations that govern traditional public schools. The charter under which
they operate is like a performance contract, which outlines the schools mission
and goals, as well as how many students it will educate and how it will assess
academic progress.

There
are two types of charter schools. Open enrollment charters are operated by
non-profit organizations, government entities or institutions of higher
education. They can draw students from across district boundaries.

The
second type are conversion charters, which are operated by local school
districts and which can only draw students from within the district’s
boundaries.

In
exchange for the greater freedom from regulations, charter schools agree to
oversight from the state Board of Education.

Crisis
Stabilization Units

In
2017 the legislature approved Act 423 to create four Crisis Stabilization
Units, where police officers can bring people who behave erratically and may
need immediate treatment for mental health issues. They are to have 16 beds.

Three
units are open, in Washington County, Sebastian County and Pulaski County. The
unit in Craighead County is under construction.

Act
423 also provides for expanded training of law enforcement officers in how to
recognize and handle people who are going through a mental health crisis. Most
people are admitted for up to 72 hours, but can stay longer under extreme
circumstances.

One
of the main goals of the units is to keep people with mental illness out of
jails, where they will not have access to medication and where their conditions
are likely to worsen.

The
Criminal Justice Institute, which is connected with the University of Arkansas
System, is offering online courses for police officers that teaches officers
how to distinguish escalating levels of danger when they encounter a person
undergoing a behavioral health crisis. The course keeps the safety of the
officer as the top priority.

The
course is nine hours and counts towards degrees offered by the Institute. The
courses teach the new protocol that police should follow when dealing with
people suffering a mental health crisis.

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Tammy Moore Teague

Tammy Moore Teague

Mansfield native, with roots in Scott County. Daughter, sister, wife and Christian. Education: 1995 MHS graduate; 1999 Arkansas Tech University Graduate - BA in Journalism. Career: Managing Editor - The Citizen; Copy Writer - Southwest Times Record; Editor - Resident Press. 20+ years experience in the news.

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