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Arkansas charter schools continue to see growth during pandemic

"Those smaller environments may have felt a little bit more comfortable for students and their parents, during the pandemic."

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — We've seen the pandemic affect schools in many ways from online to in-person to hybrid.

Well, one type of school actually saw growth in popularity despite all the ups and downs COVID-19 thrown at us.

It's a national trend and one that's also taking place right here in Arkansas. 

Charter schools are just another option for families, and more are starting to take advantage of it.

Schools like LISA Academy have been watching their enrollment continue to grow, according to Assistant Superintendent Luanne Baroni.

"We can kind of meet a different need than some of the traditional schools," she said.

The quick adjustments, flexible nature, and community-oriented aspect is why Baroni believes the charter school model continues to catch parents' eyes.

"Over the years, we found that our growth has really come from word of mouth with parents telling their friends, 'hey, this is a great option, this is a school option that is available,'" she said.

Starting out with just 375 students and one school back in 2004, they now serve 3,500 kids across eight schools.

The pandemic didn't slow them down either, according to Baroni.

"We're approved and under construction now for a campus in Rogers that will serve Rogers in Bentonville," she said.

Wendell Scales Jr. said a similar trend is taking place within Arkansas Lighthouse Academies, the pandemic showing parents a whole new light.

"Families have been able to take steps and say, 'hey, who is providing the best fit and need for my scholar?' So, I would say we've had some wins there," he said.

Some wins specifically in the uniqueness offered within the hallways, according to Scales.

"We have some behind beyond the wall components. We're taking some different initiatives," he said.

According to Arkansas Public School Resource Center, charter schools overall are growing in popularity.

Joanna Lever, Director of Charter Development, said over the past year six open-enrollment and five district-conversion public charter schools have been approved.

"Those smaller environments may have felt a little bit more comfortable for students and their parents, during the pandemic," she said.

It's a growth that Lever believes will continue year by year.

"I do see the popularity rising and it's just due to innovation," she said.

Arkansas Public School Resource Center got more than $42 million in awards back in 2018 to be able to give grants to charter schools starting up. 

Lever said they still have a lot of money left to give.