From the web
In response to an Arkansas Blog item on the flooding in Houston:
Problem is many of these flood-prone homes are built by contractors who are able to bend regulations to build in flood plains. People love to buy home near water for many reasons. Houston is a great example of a city that has seen many episodes of damaging flooding over the years ... yet they keep rebuilding (or building new) homes in a flood plain. Houston's population equals that of the whole state of Arkansas. The flooding right now is affecting a total area that would take up 2/3 of Arkansas. It really is unimaginable how bad life there is going to get in the coming weeks.
Tom Cotton and others of his kind wanted to punish President Obama with their rejection of FEMA flood insurance expansion, even though the Obama administration wanted to structure flood relief in a way that made the cities and municipalities responsible for building in flood-prone areas. Always interesting to me that Republicans claim they want accountability, but somehow twist it so that they make devils out of the opposing party who originated the idea of accountability.
One recent event in the long process of the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) process of pushing the I-30 Crossing project on Little Rock keeps bothering me. The last meeting of the Regional Planning Advisory Council of Metroplan provided a disturbing view of the state of Metroplan and our community. There was no opportunity for opposition statements. Tab Townsell, Metroplan director, who styles himself as a progressive "new urbanist," presented ARDOT's canned presentation on why it is inevitable that we widen all our freeways in Little Rock.
Townsell blamed this need to expand our urban freeways on "land-use planning" by regional municipalities. This is the most disingenuous statement of the entire I-30 Crossing debacle.
The construction of our urban freeways, especially I-30 and I-630, has had more effect on land use in Little Rock than any other factor. The public subsidy of freeway construction in Little Rock has more to do with land use, sprawl and racial division than any land-use planning event in our history.
We need to call the I-30 Crossing project what it is: a taxpayer-subsidized inducement for sprawl. It is not good for Little Rock or North Little Rock and represents the dark ages of urban planning. Why are Townsell, Mayor Stodola, Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson and others selling us down the freeway expansion river?
New gun law
I am a member of the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and I am worried that people do not know what is about to be legal in our state. On Sept. 1, 2017, a new law goes into effect in Arkansas that makes several dangerous changes to our gun laws. Among other changes, the new law allows concealed handguns to be carried in several places where it was previously against the law for civilians to carry them. The new law allows concealed handguns into certain private establishments, including those that serve alcohol. Guns and alcohol don't mix. There is strong evidence that people under the influence of alcohol are at an elevated risk of violent behavior, including gun violence.
I have spoken to many business owners who were not aware that this change is coming. I want Arkansas business owners to know that they are free to make the choice about guns on their private property. Any private business owner, including those who own or operate establishments that serve alcohol, can prohibit the concealed carry of handguns by posting a sign, clearly readable from at least 10 feet away, stating that "carrying a handgun is prohibited."
SOSO = SOSO
As the title says, doing the same-old same-old gives the same-old results. The media tells about education failures daily, with stories about young people doing horrible things. The low state test results and the international PISA scores show proof of not learning well. For developed countries, the United States ranks near the middle of the pack, even though only Norway and Switzerland outspend us. Why not change?
Since the early 1800s, public schools taught the masses. In the 19th century, we used the European model of placing students in grades based on age. Schools mainly produced people able to work in factories across the nation. At the time, even young children knew how to use tools and respected adults, but lacked literacy. Books were scarce even in schools. Factories made the industrial revolution and served as a model for schools in the education revolution.
The factory model is still used today. However, the industrial revolution is long over and most children start school at a level more advanced than their counterparts in the last century. Private schools began when Catholics could not tolerate public school Protestant practices, and started their own schools. Community-oriented Catholic schools keep children together at least eight years, and are still successful today.
The 20th century gave us charter schools and vouchers. Vouchers allow parents to pick a school and use public money for expenses. Charters get public money and autonomy in return for a contract to close if unsuccessful. Since maintaining one large school rather than several smaller schools is less costly, most charters build community by keeping students together on a campus for at least eight years, like Catholic schools. Marketing comes into play to attract students. Controlling population helps charters get and keep a good reputation. The result is a few highly successful charters and a number not doing so well.
School leaders are too busy running the factories to create community schools. Today's illiteracy and bad behavior are created by a corrupt environment without the tools needed to learn. If we vacate the factory model in favor of a community approach, it requires the help of city leaders. If leadership gets behind the idea and uses all the assets available, Little Rock could become one of the most attractive cities in the United States.
What are some things city leaders must do for us to move from school factories to community schools?
First, embrace the idea that the longer children stay together in a good place the better they become. Begin organizing pre-K through eighth- or 12th-grade schools located along bus lines. This might require new buildings or better use of old places. Being in community schools, students will ride city buses, and so the closer schools are to the bus lines, the easier the commute.
Second, arrange for the community schools to run themselves like charters do now. At one time, Little Rock had a high administrator-to-teacher ratio that was heavy on the administrators' side. That is changing, and self-managed schools will make an even bigger dent in the proportion.
Third, return all charters to public schools. This should not be too difficult since community schools use the charter design. Doing this would return all schools to the transparency now found only in the public schools. It would also bring charter teachers up to the same pay level as public school teachers. It would unite the community with one desired and appreciated school system.
Fourth, begin the process of creating partnerships. One partnership has already been mentioned whereby students ride the city buses. The community should have access to schools when there are no classes. Taxpayers should be able to use libraries, cafeterias, meeting rooms, gymnasiums, playgrounds and auditoriums for a small fee or for free. Ask businesses to sponsor and direct instruction uniting students with possible employment opportunities after graduation.
Adopting the community school idea fosters fraternity, togetherness and, most importantly, teamwork. If we ALL, with an emphasis on the word "all," work together, we will ALL be proud and satisfied with the results. When we have a proud, satisfied city, we will have peace and prosperity. If we continue our divisive ways, remember that SOSO = SOSO, and it can get worse.
Richard Emmel Little Rock