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State Capitol Week in Review


LITTLE ROCK – The state Education Department has written new rules for troubled schools to enter “transformation contracts” with outside entities, such as charter school operators.
The Department will accept public comments until May 15 on the eight pages of proposed rules. They will implement a provision in the LEARNS Act that was passed by the legislature last year. The act was the centerpiece of the governor’s legislative agenda.
An Education Department official said that transformation contracts offer a dramatic way to improve districts that are in academic distress.
Schools are eligible to enter the contracts if they have a D or an F rating or if they are classified as needing Level 5 intensive support by the Board of Education.
A strong incentive to enter transformation contracts is that for two years after the contract is signed, the state will not impose any sanctions or take any actions against the school for failing to satisfy academic performance standards.
The proposed rules allow the state to provide financial incentives to support the transformation campus, but the proposals do not specify any details about those incentives.
Under the proposed rules, any property owned by a school district when the contract is signed shall remain in the school’s possession.
The organization that contracts to take over most of the school’s administration is referred to as the transformation campus operator. Their intent must be to return management to the school after “accelerated, meaningful, and sustainable increases in student achievement have been achieved.”
One school district in the state is already being operated under a transformation contract that was signed soon after the LEARNS Act took effect last year. It is the Marvell-Elaine School District in east Arkansas, which is under state control.

Under the three-year transformation contract signed last year, Marvell-Elaine schools are being operated by the Friendship Education Foundation that sponsors open-enrollment charter schools in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pine Bluff.
The proposed rules would allow school districts that are not under state control to enter transformation contracts. If the district falls under state control during contract period, the contract would become void on the date the state takes over control.
Community Service Requirement
Another provision in the LEARNS Act will require high school students to perform 75 hours of community service in order to graduate. The first seniors who will have to comply will be the class of 2027, who are now in ninth grade.
This class has about 39,000 students, so they will contribute almost three million hours of community service in Arkansas over the next four years.
The Education Department has written four pages of proposed rules to implement the community service provisions and will take public comments until April 24.
Local school boards may grant a waiver to a graduating student for extenuating circumstances, on a case-by-case basis. For example, waivers may be granted to students who are medically fragile, or students going through a serious illness or who has a family member who is seriously ill.
Also, students with jobs who contribute significantly to the family’s income may get a waiver.