A closer look at charter schools | Arkansas Blog

A closer look at charter schools

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More hopeful news from yesterday's state Board of Education meeting. Even the strongest charter school advocates on the Board — such as Naccaman Williams, who's paid in private life by the Waltons to advance the charter school agenda through their billion-dollar foundation, and Vicki Saviers, who helped establish the eStem charter school — were doubtful about expansion of an Osceola charter school and tabled the proposal. The school, nominally established to reach at-risk kids (though apparently without anything approaching a systematic plan to do that) had achieved something — a majority white, majority middle-income student body against the majority black, majority poor Osceola School District from which the students fled. You think maybe that was the idea?

This is another example of why the Little Rock School District's objections to the state's work in charter school approval has been so important. Even if the district were now to drop that legal action, I think it has gotten the state's attention.

You should not be able to create a publicly funded school for parents who don't want their children to attend the local school district simply on account of demographic factors. That happened in Pulaski County on several occasions. Flight havens were created that didn't offer better education opportunities than were already available in the three public school districts and they sometimes didn't meet promised objectives, such as a Maumelle charter's promise of a diverse student body. If we are to have charters — and we are — the application and monitoring process must be rigorous. Promises (such as being devoted to at-risk kids or diverse populations) must have meaning. It's beginning to sound like, years late, that they do (this was evidenced in recent Board of Education resistance to charters in two South Arkansas communities hoping to replace consolidated schools). The haters won't admit it, but you can thank the Little Rock School District, at least in part, for that. Give Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell credit, too. Previous leadership was decidedly laissez faire.

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