LITTLE ROCK – Two new virtual statewide charter schools have been approved by the Arkansas Board of Education.
The board's action allows Founders Classical Academy to add as many as 500 slots for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The action also allows Premier High Schools of Arkansas to add as many as 250 students in a new virtual school.
Both charters operate existing "bricks and mortar" campuses. After they have added online classes, Arkansas will have five virtual charter schools. The three existing ones are Arkansas Virtual Academy, Arkansas Connections Academy and LISA Academy Arkansas Hybrid School.
Also, several traditional schools have begun virtual learning, in response to the covid-19 pandemic.
An official of the state Education Department reported at the beginning of the current school year that about 3.9% of all students in Arkansas now take online classes. The number of virtual students is about 18,500. About 474,000 students enrolled in Arkansas public schools last fall.
Open enrollment charter schools are run by non-profit organizations, and their students can be drawn from anywhere. District conversion charters schools are run by public school districts, and their students must live within the district's boundaries.
This year, almost 24,000 students are attending open enrollment charters schools. The largest charter is the Arkansas Virtual Academy, which teaches 3,885 students from around the state.
The LISA Academy system has 3,469 students in bricks and mortar campuses in Pulaski County and Springdale. Its hybrid academy is a mix of traditional and online classes.
Arkansas Connections Academy is the third largest charter in the state. All of its 3,390 students take virtual classes. The only other charter system in Arkansas with more than 3,000 students is eStem Public Charter School System in Little Rock, with 3,050 students.
The state Department of Education currently lists 24 open enrollment charter schools and 35 district conversion charter schools in Arkansas.
Tourism Industry Rebound
The Arkansas Tourism Ticker is a venture managed by Talk Business and Politics, an online news site, and the Arkansas Hospitality Association, a trade group representing restaurants, hotels, lodging and related businesses that rely heavily on tourism.
The most recent report by the Tourism Ticker has good news. The industry is in a strong rebound after the financial devastation caused by covid-19 restrictions.
One gauge is the amount of hospitality taxes collected in 17 Arkansas towns and cities. They're up more than 27% for the first two months of the year, compared to last year. Of the 17 cities and towns, only Texarkana reported a drop in hospitality tax revenue.
Another measure is the state's 2% tax on hotels, boat rentals and tourism related destinations. Those revenues are up 48% over last year.
The Tourism Ticker also keeps track of jobs in the industry, as reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of jobs in the Arkansas tourism industry has risen by 9.5% since last year.
There were 120,700 Arkansas residents working in the tourism sector in January and February. That number tends to increase over the summer months.
• • •
Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Senate Health Committee.