Columns » Max Brantley

White flight charter


Remember the Little Scholars of Arkansas Academy (LISA)? This is the charter school, approved by the state Board of Education over the objections of the Little Rock School Board. It is to open next fall. A pair of UALR profs set up the taxpayer-financed school for students interested in science, math and technology. Presumably, they'll draw salaries for the work they manage to squeeze in around their full-time jobs at UALR. I oppose diverting tens of thousands in tax dollars to LISA. Why? Because the Little Rock School District already meets the needs of high-achieving students. See last week's state science fair results, dominated by Little Rock students, as a sample of their work. Because the school will drain good students from the Little Rock School District and make it more difficult to desegregate an urban district with a dwindling student population. Because the founders offended me by saying all the "best families" in Little Rock already put their kids in private schools. My son and daughter, Little Rock school district graduates, are just poor white trash, I guess. This week came more reason to disbelieve LISA's purported interest in an underserved minority population. LISA got approval from the state Board of Education to move the school from a location near downtown in the old Union Station to the gateway of White Bread Land, a former medical clinic at Interstates 430 and 630. The vote was 5 to 2. Praise Board members MaryJane Rebick and Diane Tatum for opposing the move. School leader Serhan Dagtas said the school would be more accessible at the new location. But, Rebick asked, to whom? Rebick noted that LISA, in justifying its original application, had identified downtown and Southwest Little Rock as areas in need of its services. She said the school should stay in central Little Rock. Indeed, if LISA meant a word of its pitch, accessibility is vitally important because the school will offer no transportation. Rebick also said the school's ads "kind of got my ire up" by promising "free" college prep courses. Taxpayers foot the bill, big-time. The ads irked me, too, particularly the lengthy hard-sell commercials LISA has been running on KUAR. (Public radio: Now there's a perfect place to reach low-rent folks like me.) I inquired about the ads, because, typically, sponsors on public radio don't get to make direct commercial pitches. Station manager Ben Fry informs me that non-profits are not limited in their commercial message. They can pitch wares if they have them. So how's this for weird in a school district trying to get the state out of a half-century of desegregation litigation? A state-financed school - a school even more likely to encourage white flight with a location closer to white flight neighborhoods -is touting its "free" education on a state-subsidized public radio station. If I were a member of one of the city's "best families," maybe I would have the capacity to understand why the state Board of Education approved this mess. I'm thankful, at least, for the recent vigilance of Rebick and Tatum.

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