Pro- and anti-charter advocates crowd the Education Department on the day of the state board's eStem/LISA charter expansion decision in March 2016. (File photo) BRIAN CHILSON

The Arkansas Department of Education announced yesterday new members of the Charter Authorizing Panel, which is responsible for oversight of charter schools in the state. Its mandate includes the authorization of new schools, the expansion of existing schools, and the modification or renewal (or revocation) of their charters. Members are appointed by Education Commissioner Johnny Key.

As a body internal to the education department, the authorizing panel has been exclusively composed of ADE staff in the past. However, a new law passed by the Arkansas legislature this spring allows the commissioner to select individuals from outside the department as well. The law was sponsored by Sen. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette).


Yesterday’s appointments included three new members external to ADE: Toyce Newton, Naccaman Williams and Mike Wilson. (The other three new members are ADE staff — they’re listed below — and ADE Deputy Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer will remain on the panel and serve as chair.)

Wilson, an attorney from Jacksonville and former legislator, played a key role in founding Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School. Williams and Newton are both former members of the state Board of Education, meaning they have years of experience in education policy. But Williams is also an officer with the Walton Family Foundation, which is one of the nation’s foremost advocates of charter expansion. Newton voted last spring to authorize the expansion of two Little Rock charter schools, eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy, a move which many supporters of the Little Rock School District saw as a severe blow to traditional public schools in the city. (Context here.) Newton also joined the majority in voting to take over control of the LRSD in January 2015, a decision that split the state board 5-4.


In practice, the authorizing panel’s consequential decisions on charters — such as the eStem/LISA expansion question — are typically reviewed by the state board, which has the final say on matters at the education department. Still, as the venue where issues concerning charters get their first public hearing, the authorizing panel is an important part of the oversight process.

New Members Named to Charter Authorizing Panel

LITTLE ROCK — Six new members have been named to the Charter Authorizing Panel. Dr. Ivy Pfeffer, the Arkansas Department of Education deputy commissioner, will remain on the panel and serve as the chair.

The panel serves as the primary authorizer for all charters in the state. The panel oversees the authorization, renewal, revision and revocation of charters. Act 462 of 2017 allows for individuals outside the department to serve on the panel. In an effort to increase representation from multiple stakeholder groups, the panel is comprised of the following.

Dr. Ivy Pfeffer, ADE Deputy Commissioner
Dr. Jeremy Owoh – ADE Assistant Commissioner for Educator Effectiveness
Dr. Mike Hernandez – State Superintendent for the Office of Coordinated Support and Service
Kathi Turner – Deputy Director for Career and Technical Education at the Arkansas Department of Career Education
Mike Wilson – Education Advocate and Attorney in Jacksonville
Dr. Naccaman Williams – State Board of Education Member from August 11, 2004, to June 30, 2011
Toyce Newton – State Board of Education Member from August 18, 2009, to June 30, 2016
To learn more about the panel, please visit the ADE website at