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The choice not taken

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The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which is subsidized by $200,000 annually in city tax dollars, continues its work to tear down the best hope for a vibrant community — its public school district.

In cooperation with Arkansans for Education Reform, a lobby group funded by the Walton family and other wealthy Arkansans, the chamber is holding a town hall meeting on "Parental Choice in Public Schools" Oct. 25 at Philander Smith College.

The chamber implies that the only choice is flight from Little Rock public schools. This follows its disastrous meddling in school elections several years ago and more recent circulation of the reform group's propaganda that all state spending in Little Rock schools has been a waste. Tens of thousands of diverse graduates and gaudy academic achievements tell a more complex story.

Until after the Arkansas Times Arkansas Blog complained, the session lacked a significant element of choice — the public school district itself. Superintendent Morris Holmes and civil rights lawyer John Walker were belatedly added to a roster made up mostly of financial beneficiaries and advocates of the Billionaire Boys Club agenda — charter schools and vouchers.

The town hall will include selections from the "Triumph of the Will" of the charter school movement — the documentary film "Waiting for Superman." Free copies will be distributed, too. Sorry, you'll have to search online on your own to buy copies of the answer film, "Inconvenient Truths About Waiting for Superman," or "American Teachers," a documentary on a generally hard working, underpaid and underappreciated profession.

This meeting, part of a national series, is intended to build the billionaires' case that Little Rock public schools, and all others with union teachers, have failed. The charge of systemwide failure of the Little Rock schools is demonstrably false. Failure of individual schools, as measured by test scores, is a more provable proposition. But it can be a misleading proposition, if the measure is against schools with motivated, higher income parents and fewer special needs students.

Why won't the chamber work harder at the first, best choice — making the city's core school district better? Because the billionaires detest districts with a teacher's union.

The push for charter schools has produced undeniable pockets of excellence. It has also produced pockets of failure and corruption, resegregation and financial and demographic pressure that will end, if the movement continues, in a derelict Little Rock School District.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has been put in effective control of tens of millions in new city tax money dedicated to job creation. Promotion of balkanized education in Little Rock, to the detriment of the local school district, isn't a smart way to start economic development work.

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