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School truths

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The Walton Family Foundation, abetted by the wealthy Stephens, Hussman, Murphy and Dillard clans, is winning the "school choice" war.

Choice means, eventually, taking public tax money to pay for private school tuition. A major interim step is the charter school, a publicly financed school unaccountable to voters and sometimes run for profit.

With cheerleading from a Walton-financed school at the University of Arkansas, Walton-backed legislators have raised the cap on charter schools and opened the spigot of public money for home schoolers.

A favorite beneficiary of the Waltons is Responsive Education Solutions, a Texas-based management company led by people with a history of religion-influenced thinking. Responsive Ed just won approval for a fourth charter school in Arkansas, the Quest charter school in western Little Rock. It also holds management contracts with three public school districts.

The state Department of Education staff, which approved the Quest application, apparently doesn't review curriculum. Responsive Ed's biology workbook taught creationism, contrary to Arkansas law. In the face of publicity from an investigative article in Slate, the company has pulled the books. No word yet if it has improved its history materials, which Slate also found full of misinformation.

Quest also applied to open its school to draw higher-income white people from the Little Rock School District on Rahling Road in Chenal Valley. A great deal of state Board of Education debate was about the location — in the Pulaski, not the Little Rock, School District — and the cost. Its proximity to Little Rock's Roberts Elementary was seen as a plus.

The Arkansas Times has now discovered through an FOI request that Quest, at the very meeting the Rahling site was approved, was working on relocating the school to near Shackleford and I-430, close by Little Rock's Henderson Middle School. The landlord on Rahling proved unwilling to negotiate a lower price.

A better price is a good argument to move, but it doesn't excuse the failure to tell the state Board of Education that it was planning a dramatically different location than the one being debated.

Charter school backers always claim they are all about accountability. To date, broken promises and failing charter schools have rarely resulted in state consequences. It's time to give the word meaning. Responsive Ed shouldn't be given a rubber stamp by department staff for its new, cheaper location. It should be made to file a new application and explain why it didn't tell the truth.

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