by Max Brantley
It's taken 10 years, but the state Board of Education has finally begun bringing some degree of accountability to charter schools.
Yesterday, the Board refused an expansion for the Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle, which opened in 2001. It was supposed to reach out to poor and minority students. It has so far failed at that contractual mission, never meeting the minority enrollment its founders promised. It became pretty much a white flight haven for the city of Maumelle, in its founding years served by schools away from largely white Maumelle. Its test scores for the generally middle class student body have lagged. In one case familiar to me, an accomplished black student complained about school attitudes toward black students several years ago.
Finally, the school is going to participate in the school lunch program that subsidizes lower-income families. Finally, the school is trying to provide transportation to poorer students. Finally, the state Board is looking at test scores and results at the school. The Board should have applied this scrutiny 10 years ago, but the board was largely controlled for a number of years by charter school partisans, including even a board member employed by the Walton millions to advance charter schools at all costs. Thanks to Sam Ledbetter, Brenda Gullett, James Cooper and Ben Mays for raising the right questions. Academics Plus may get on track and meet its mission, thanks to such tougher scrutiny. If not, the state should end its support. One wonders whether any changes would have occurred without the recent invigoration of the state Board.
One question for State Education Director Tom Kimbrell: Where does a state agency get off resisting a Little Rock School District request in federal court to see state data on charter schools in Arkansas back to 2001. Accountability equals transparency. What is there to hide, Dr. Kimbrell? These are public schools, right?