UPDATE: The Education Board voted shortly after 11:30 p.m. to allow the eSTEM Public Charter School expand. It voted shortly after 9:30 p.m. to allow the LISA Academy charter school to expand.

UPDATE: The Education Board voted shortly after 11:30 p.m. to allow the eSTEM Public Charter School expand. It voted shortly after 9:30 p.m. to allow the LISA Academy charter school to expand.


Posted earlier:


LITTLE ROCK — In a special meeting Thursday night, the state Board of Education heard arguments for and against allowing two Little Rock charter schools to expand.


By press time, the meeting was still in progress and the board had not voted on the expansion requests of LISA Academy and eSTEM Public Charter School. The board did vote unanimously to affirm a February decision by the state Charter Authorizing Panel to renew the charter of Covenant Keepers College Preparatory School in Little Rock for three years.


The Charter Authorizing Panel also approved the expansion requests in February, but the state board voted March 10 to exercise its authority to review the decisions.


The LISA Academy charter school asked for approval to add a building in west Little Rock, to serve grades kindergarten through sixth, and raise its enrollment cap from 1,500 to 2,100.


The eSTEM Public Charter School asked for approval to add a building on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, to serve grades 10-12, and two buildings to serve elementary and junior high students near the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. The school also asked for its enrollment cap to be raised from 1,462 to 3,844.


Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and several state legislators, parents and students urged the board to allow the expansion of eSTEM and LISA Academy.


Griffin said parents want the best education possible for their children.


"I believe, and I think a lot of people believe, that you get that by going somewhere else in many cases," he said.


State Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, said success in schools is about parental involvement.


"There’s nothing that is more involvement-based than giving a parent a choice," he said.


Several state legislators and parents also spoke against the expansion requests.


Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, whose grandfather and great-grandfather served on the Little Rock School Board, asked the state board to put the requests on hold and gather more information to determine what impact the expansions would have on the Little Rock School District.


"The merits of those (charter) schools is not the question for this body, not the whole question," he said.


Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, a former classroom teacher, said there needs to be a plan that allows public schools and charter schools to work for the best interest of students. She took exception to the notion that schools should be in competition with each other.


"Competition means that you are by definition willing to let some students be losers, by policy," she said.


Baker Kurrus, who was installed as Little Rock School District superintendent last year after the state took over the district because several schools were in academic distress, told the board that charter schools attract students that are more affluent and perform better on tests than public school students.


If the state allows that trend to increase, "I don’t see a bright future for the Little Rock School District," he said.