More comments on charter school expansion | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, March 31, 2016

More comments on charter school expansion

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 4:13 PM

BILL KOPSKY: Calls for more charter school study. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • BILL KOPSKY: Calls for more charter school study.
The charter school expansion review before the state Board of Education begins later this afternoon and we'll be on hand. But meanwhile, one last comment on the subject, from Bill Kopsky of the Public Policy Panel.

He echoes Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus' call for more data analysis of the needs of all school children in the city and county before moving forward.

The board's failure to do more analysis and a decision to allow the expansion — clearly the preference of the Hutchinson administration and its appointees — will renew a request for an injunction in John Walker's pending lawsuit over the state takeover of the district and could well spur a new unrelated lawsuit. The facts are that the charter schools have contributed to increased segregation by race, poverty and learning impediments in the Little Rock School District and continued charter expansion seems likely to increase it more. The state, which now controls the district, can't blame that on anyone but itself. There was a time courts wouldn't have countenanced this state action, but times have changed.

Kopsky's letter follows, along with a letter of opposition from Donna Massey, leader of Arkansas Community Organizations, a grassroots group based in Little Rock.:

To: Arkansas Board of Education
March 31, 2016

We request that you vote not to approve the proposed expansions of eStem and LISA Academy at this time.

We believe your legal obligation, heightened by state control of the Little Rock School District (LRSD), is to make a decision that is in the best interest of all students in Little Rock and Pulaski County. Your own chosen superintendent for LRSD, Baker Kurrus, has laid out powerful concerns about the impact eStem and LISA Academy expansions will have on the quality of education available to all Little Rock students. We believe you should give his concerns great deference.

Mr Kurrus called for more time to review the impact of these proposals and for his reform efforts to gain traction. He has also called for comprehensive planning and collaboration among all public educational entities in Pulaski Co. The issues presented by the proposed expansions of eStem and LISA Academy, on top of the complex challenges already facing LRSD and all public schools in Pulaski County, calls for a strategic, coordinated and comprehensive planning process.

We believe you should help lead the way in both of these areas as you are now the defacto school board for LRSD. You will find many willing partners in that process from all sectors of our community, but it is imprudent to make decisions as big as the expansion of eStem and LISA Academy without such a plan.

Mr. Kurrus and the Civic Advisory Committee that you created have been working with teachers for only 10 months to create an improvement plan at the 6 distressed schools in LRSD and the district as a whole. They have made significant gains in these 10 months, but school improvement is difficult and needs a stable environment and good long-range planning to be successful. Expanding eStem and LISA at this time will destabilize the process of school improvement that many in our community are collaborating on to advance.

Further, at this time the data simply does not show eStem and LISA Academy providing a significantly improved educational opportunity for students. The schools perform admirably, but so do comparable LRSD schools with similar demographic characteristics. Further research, using longitudinal tracking data, should be conducted to accurately measure the impact eStem and LISA Academy have on student performance. But right now the results show muddled to slightly negative performance once demographics are accounted for — which would fit the national educational research on charter school performance.

While the case for eStem and LISA Academy has not been made clearly, the potential negative impacts of the proposed expansions are quite clear. The proposed expansions will further concentrate low-income, high needs students in LRSD while leaving the district significantly fewer resources to meet these kids’ needs. The proposed expansions will further divide our city by race, and while the charter schools say they will address this issue they have yet to provide a detailed plan on how they will do so.

To expand eStem and LISA at this time is to essentially place greater value on one group of students than you do another. That would be wrong and is full of legal risks. Education should not be a zero sum game, but the fact is that the way education funding works these charter expansions will create winners and losers among Little Rock's children. Some will gain choices to attend charters, but others will lose needed supports. For example, expensive but non-mandated programs of LRSD (like early childhood programs, specialists helping students who are below grade level, etc.) are likely to be cut as a result of the budget cuts that will come from these charter expansions. It will weaken opportunities for LRSD’s most vulnerable students. No one's child should be prioritized over anyone else.

The way to avoid the zero sum game is to take a pause, back up and make a comprehensive plan for education in Pulaski Co that accounts for both charter schools and traditional public schools.

Thank you.

Bill Kopsky
Director, Arkansas Public Policy Panel
Donna Massey's letter:

Dear State Board of Education Members:

We are writing in opposition to the proposals by LISA Academy and eStem Public Charter Schools to expand their enrollment and facilities in Little Rock. Arkansas Community Organizations has members in neighborhoods in southwest, east and central Little Rock. We have been active in school issues in Little Rock since our founding in 2009.

Mt. Kurrus and others have provided data and made persuasive arguments against the expansion. We support many of those arguments. We are writing to make the following points:

In January 2015 the State Board of Education took control of the Little Rock School District (LRSD) because six out of forty-eight schools were in academic “distress”. To date citizens of Little Rock have not seen a comprehensive and public plan to improve instruction in those six schools. Shouldn’t this be the state board’s top priority for Little Rock?

By voting for the expansion, you are taking state funding from the Little Rock School District and using those funds to establish large privately operated school districts in Little Rock that will compete for students and resources with the LRSD. If past and current enrollment demographics for the two charters continue into the future, the two privately operated school districts will siphon off more affluent students from the LRSD and concentrate lower income, special needs, limited English proficiency and homeless students in the publicly operated LRSD.

Privately operated charter school districts are currently not required to work with the public school district. By allowing the expansion, you will set up a disjointed, inefficient and discriminatory system of public education in Little Rock. This non-unitary system will do little or nothing to improve the educational outcomes for children from low- to moderate-income households in our city.

Most of the children who live in our neighborhoods will attend the publicly operated Little Rock School District. The LRSD does not have a lottery system. The LRSD must serve all students who enroll. We must strengthen not weaken public schools in Little Rock.

The LRSD has had many successes as well as serious shortcomings. Instead of approving more charter schools, the State Board should lift up those successes and build on them so that all students in the district have an equitable opportunity to receive a good education. One way to do this is to look at some examples from other school districts across the country where community members, parents, teachers and administrators have set up Community Wrap-Around schools. Here is a link to a report about community schools and their success in educating low-income students: 

We urge you to vote against the charter expansion proposals and to work with us to build a strong, equitable and successful public school system in Little Rock.

Donna Massey
Arkansas Community Organizations

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