Saturday, May 7, 2016

Johnny Key fast-tracks LR charter school expansion in Walton-helped enterprise

Posted By on Sat, May 7, 2016 at 8:02 AM

click to enlarge FAST TRACK: Education Commissioner Johnny Key has speeded consideration of using this former Lutheran High facility for a charter school expansion.
  • FAST TRACK: Education Commissioner Johnny Key has speeded consideration of using this former Lutheran High facility for a charter school expansion.
Don't think charter school mania was at the root of Education Commissioner Johnny Key's dismissal of Baker Kurrus as Little Rock school superintendent? For still more solid circumstantial evidence, see the article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about still more charter school expansions in Little Rock.

Little Rock Preparatory Academy is asking for a 120-student expansion in its middle school and a move from the 4500 block of University Avenue to a former Lutheran school facility west of University Avenue on Markham Street.

I'd mentioned that expansion in a talk with Kurrus earlier this week
on personnel cuts in the Little Rock district and his continuing belief that charter schools are probably unconstitutional when operated as parallel, inefficient and not particularly innovative or successful ventures in Little Rock. He mentioned then that the loss of 120 students for this latest expansion potentially meant a loss of approaching another $1 million in annual state support to  the Little Rock District for lost students.

A telling fact in the Democrat-Gazette story was mentioned in passing 25 paragraphs deep.

Education Department rules on charter schools specify that charter amendments are to be heard in February and October by the Charter Authorizing Panel.

Key, the education commissioner, waived those requirements for Little Rock Preparatory Academy as well as the other applicants that want to appear before the panel later this month.
In other words, Key is fast-tracking still more charter school expansion in Little Rock, whose school district is now under Key's control. If the past is any guide, the Education Department review process will find good any proposal to increase charter seats in Little Rock. Will Key allow Baker Kurrus or his successor Mike Poore to raise questions about the expansion at a review panel meeting May 18? Would it matter if they did given the influence that the Walton Family Foundation possesses on the state Board of Education?

Does it matter that this particular charter school has low test scores and is a so-called priority school? Only in Arkansas Charter World does failure enable expansion.

Little Rock Prep will be moving within a mile or so of Henderson Middle School, regularly derided as a failure that no right-thinking West Little Rock parent would want to attend by the Walton's paid Little Rock lobbyist and leading critic of the Little Rock School District, Gary Newton. Henderson, like Little Rock Prep, draws its students almost exclusively from minority, low-income families.

If the state school report card means anything — and surely it must because the Walton lobbyists have pushed for it — you'll see in the most recent round of grading that Henderson scored a C and Little Rock Prep scored a D, with Henderson outpointing Little Rock Prep 210-208 on the point scale. They both scored 84 on the index aimed at measuring improvement in students' scores year to year.

Still, what need is being met by expanding Little Rock Prep and moving it into Henderson's neighborhood?

I note this passage in the D-G story:

Long said families at Preparatory Academy are "ecstatic" about the potential site.

The proposed site is in a more western, affluent part of the city compared with the school's current campuses.

Long said the school operators want to stay true to the school's mission of serving children from low-income and working families, ...
You stay true to serving low-income families by moving into affluent neighborhoods? Note: Little Rock Prep also has an elementary school at 1616 Spring Street. That's about two blocks from the Governor's Mansion. Good neighborhood? 

I'd also like to know more about Arkansas Charter Partners, which has worked out a favorable leasing deal for this building (11 percent of the school's annual taxpayer provided revenue). It is a nonprofit incorporated by a lawyer at Williams and Anderson. But we can safely guess this is another Walton  vehicle aimed at tearing down the Little Rock School District.

The Pulaski assessor's record says the school property is owned by KLS Leasing LLC. The  billing address for KLS is a post office box in Bentonville that happens to be the mailing address for Walton Enterprises, the holding company for the vast wealth of Walton heirs. Walton billionaires will be repaid their purchase price in taxpayer money and know that the return on their investment also includes another blow to the Little Rock School District.

The same Walton leasing enterprise, by the way, bought an old hotel in downtown Rogers, reportedly for an expansion of the Haas Hall Academy charter school operation.

PS: The Little Rock Prep proposal would take the school from 400 to 520 students, worth better than $3.6 million in state aid every year. About 300 would be at the new building. The Walton LLC bought  the building last August for $4.25 million, according to county tax records. This addition in charter seats is on top of 3,000 seats added recently to capacity of the eStem and LISA schools in Little Rock, plus growth north of the river to the Academics Plus school district, which also will have more than one campus.

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