by Max Brantley
Steve Brawner at Talk Business writes today about one of many movements afoot to make it easier to open up a charter school in Arkansas. After years of lax oversight, the state Board of Education has begun taking its role as charter school gatekeeper seriously. It has been approving them, but has refused some poorly conceived proposals and, moreover, has been a tough reviewer of whether existing charter schools have lived up to their promises.
In Arkansas, and elsewhere, there's little evidence that charter schools as a whole do any better than conventional public schools in improving student performance. They have spawned many a financial scandal. They have created duplicate school districts in a state that once was proud of its progress in reducing duplicative bureaucracies. They are generally unaccountable to the public that finances them (no elected school boards and good luck trying to talk to many of the administrators or review their publicly financed records) and they are often run for profit of operators or private corporations. They skim cream from school districts struggling to improve. They counsel out poor students so as to burnish their performance records.
But in Republicanland, what the Waltons/Stephenses/Murphys want, they get. So it is that Mark Biviano, he of the famous Bourbon and Bacon dinner hit and run and Bruce Westerman are cooking up legislation to bypass or neutralize state Board of Education oversight of charter school approval. The Waltons bought the Senate last go-round. With or without Republican control, their lobbyists have the assembly well oiled for action. The charter school express is a given. But will Biviano and Westerman and Co. also succeed in opening the door to school vouchers in the form of tax credits for private school tuition? It's created disasters everywhere else, including teaching of the Loch Ness Monster as science in Louisiana.
The billionaires and their paid enablers won't be happy until equal and universal public education — once an American hallmark — is the stuff of nostalgia.
SPEAKING OF CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Arkansas Public School Research Center notes that nine applications were filed for new open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas by Friday's deadline for applications to operate in the 2013-14 school year.