by Max Brantley
Gov. Mike Beebe thinks it's perfectly appropriate to consider whether racial impact of charter school decisions in the Little Rock School District might run afoul of the long-running federal desegregation lawsuit.
Beebe's careful and common-sense approach to most issues, including some hotly divisive ones, is welcome. It is particularly welcome when a hired hand for the charter school lobby, former Education Department lawyer Scott Smith, says there's no need to worry about resegregation because the school district has been declared desegregated.
A strict legal standard isn't the only standard that should guide the state Board of Education. Just because the law might allow the state to create schools that will harm desegregation efforts doesn't mean that it should. The Board shouldn't create a charter school in Little Rock -- or anywhere else in the state -- when it's clear that the application is driven primarily by a desire to create an island of separateness from the prevailing demographics in the school district charter schoolers hope to depart. A charter school should have a sound educational purpose, a purpose unmet by the existing school district. The state must be careful about approving schools anywhere that will be segregative -- whether by race, gender, religion, income or other defining characteristic. It may do so anyway, but it should have sound education reasons for doing it.
The Board yesterday continued a welcome pattern of giving tough scrutiny to charter applications and disapproving those that didn't meet the aims of the state charter law. It is not enough, for example, that people in a small community want to create a charter school to avoid consolidation with another school district.
Arkansas will have more charter schools. But if they come with the reasoned thinking that Beebe and his Education Board appointees seem to be bringing to the deliberations, there should be little ground for complaint.