by Max Brantley
The financial questions are not, in the longer term, answered by the amount of LRSD’s revenue transfers or losses. The primary questions relate to system efficiency, facilities utilization and construction, performance, and fairness under the unitary status rules. In the longer term, these are the considerations that are paramount. In the shorter term, the funding losses are real, and the drastic measures required will be painful and damaging without time to plan for them.Kurrus raises a point that hasn't gotten nearly enough attention. Charter schools were supposed to be laboratories of innovation. We've seen little on this, except the not-surprising finding that middle class kids score better than poor kids. But here, we are creating whole school districts. Academics Plus is also moving to multiple campuses in Pulaski County. It's inefficient duplication, Kurrus writes. He also applies some accountability standards you rarely see applied by charter supporters to charter schools. Example:
The real and immediate problem is that LRSD must still educate the students that remain, and these students will be more needy, as a percentage of the whole, than before the eStem and LISA expansions.
... The students who exit are more likely to be higher achievers. This compounds LRSD’s academic distress problems. The characterization of LRSD as distressed causes additional direct costs for school improvement specialists, and fuels a downward spiral in enrollment that further reduces revenue.
Kurrus says these charters inevitably will isolate minority, poor, disabled and non-English-speaking students in Little Rock schools.
eStem’s expansion application describes new real estate investments for public charter schools which will cost about $2,021,572 per year for thirty years or so. The ownership of the lessor is not disclosed. The rates of return used to calculate the lease payments are also not disclosed. The bulk of these new investments will be made on expensive real estate in a part of town with declining student numbers (39% decline in the last 15 years). This same area already has five elementary schools within a range of 1.5 miles. See map attached as Ex. J. As previously stated, these existing elementary schools have thousands of vacant seats. See Ex. I. This does not appear to be a wise expenditure of public funds.
Perhaps this level of spending and duplication would be merited if the academic performance at public charters was compelling, but that is simply not the case. The results simply do not bear out the necessity, especially without some planning about how to use the duplicate facilities which exist now.
Comprehensive planning is necessary to provide public education services to the students who reside in LRSD.
An analysis needs to be done to determine if there are there large numbers of students who are failing in North Little Rock School District, Pulaski County School District and LRSD who would succeed if enrolled in Covenant Keepers, LISA, and eStem. If so, the practices in those charter environments need to be transferred to the other public schools. Thus far, the available data does not show that the higher performing charter schools are employing practices which materially change projected outcomes. The raw data from all of the public schools, including the failed and failing charters, shows that disproportionate numbers of low income students, non-English speakers and students with disabilities correlate to lower levels of average achievement in schools where these students are enrolled. LRSD confronts this issue daily, and it is a challenge. Nothing should be done to make that challenging task more difficult.So what should be done?
There is ample research which shows that students of differing levels of achievement who are blended in schools tend to have higher levels of achievement. If this is true, then isolating failing public school students would not be a preferred public policy.....Attachments:
Covenant Keepers, LISA, eStem and LRSD need to be evaluated, with a view toward the future of each public institution. The evaluations should include demographic factors. Do the schools improve outcomes for students? Do the schools provide some students with public alternatives that may provide benefits or convenience to constituent groups, but little tangible benefits to students and the community at large? Even if some benefits do exist, how are these benefits weighed against the costs and risks of the multiple systems which have arisen without any collaborative planning? Is the State of Arkansas obligated to provide multiple general public systems of education, and can it afford to do so?
The charter authorizing statute gives preference to granting a charter in a district with higher than average poverty. Such preference would make no sense unless the proposed charter serves enough poverty students to lower the percentage of students of poverty in the host district. These applications do the opposite. The charter authorizing statutes give preference to an application for a charter which will operate in a district in academic distress. Such a preference would make no sense whatsoever unless the charter school in question serves low-achieving students in numbers sufficient to improve academic achievement averages in the host district. Otherwise the granting of the charter only increases the poverty in the host district, and pushes the host district deeper into academic distress. Granting the eStem and LISA applications as filed would increase the poverty percentage in LRSD, and push LRSD deeper into academic distress.