by Max Brantley
Again: We should have charter schools. They should be carefully vetted for ability to succeed and not be allowed to drain conventional public school districts without good cause. In truth, there will always be arguments to be made for charter schools in big, poor urban schools districts (i.e., Little Rock), but it doesn't mean that anybody who wants to start one for any reason should be approved. And we should evaluate them carefully. The eStem ad in today's paper, comparing its majority white, majority non-poor student test numbers to the disproportionately black and poor school districts in Pulaski County is more than a touch misleading.
The state Board of Education has indicated recently that it's going to pay more attention to cornerstone principles in the passage of the charter school law -- a demonstrated need for the schools and strong indications that applicants are prepared to run good schools. The wild-eyed charter advocates would approve just about any application and let a little educational Darwinism prevail, no matter the cost to children involved in the experiment.
Little Rock School District Attorney Chris Heller recognizes the new direction of the state board in a memo to the Little Rock School Board. He has some suggestions about a way the Pulaski County desegregation lawsuit could be ended and the state could be encouraged to provide some assurances that local school districts can't be raided at will by any charter operator hoping to carve off better students and money that will follow them. Will Attorney General Dustin McDaniel be willing to talk about it? He should.
MEMO TO LR SCHOOL BOARD FROM CHRIS HELLER
board members and dr watson -
your vote last week to make a counter offer to the state in lrsd v pcssd, together with the state board of education's action this week to postpone its decision on the proposed ucpc charter school, creates an opportunity to resolve the outstanding issues in the desegregation case in a way that mitigates the future negative impact of charter schools on lrsd.
the state board has requested additional information before its december meeting from lrsd, the attorney general, the department of education and ucpc concerning two things: the potential impact of ucpc on the pulaski county districts' desegregation efforts; and the authority of the state board to impose or accept in a charter conditions designed to lessen the effect of the proposed school on desegregation efforts.
those conditions might include, for example, transportation, at least for poverty students, and required enrollment (not just recruitment) of a certain percentage of below basic and basic students and free and reduced lunch students. we could work with ucpc [a charter application aimed at serving inner city male students] to see if they would accept such conditions in exchange for lrsd withdrawing its objection to the charter. we could seek an opinion from the attorney general that the state board is authorized to approve a charter which contains such conditions.
if the state board approves a conditional charter for ucpc with lrsd's support, that could serve as a model for future charter schools and an example of appropriate limitations on charter schools for use in our negotiations with the state in lrsd v pcssd. this would, of course, represent a compromise of our position (which we share with pcssd) that there should be no more charter schools in pulaski county at this time.
if we take this approach, it would not mean that transportation for poverty students and enrollment of disadvantaged students would be the only charter school issues we would raise in our settlement negotiations with the state. we could, for example, argue for independent evaluations of existing charter schools to see if they are living up to the promises they made in their charters and to determine whether the innovations allowed through the waiver process are providing significant benefits to their students. i would like to hear your thoughts on these issues and will happy meet with each of you at your convenience. ch