Senate defeats bill to extend state control of Little Rock School District | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 8, 2019

Senate defeats bill to extend state control of Little Rock School District

Posted By on Mon, Apr 8, 2019 at 4:06 PM

click to enlarge FOR LOCAL CONTROL OF LRSD: Sen. Linda Chesterfield's side prevailed. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • FOR LOCAL CONTROL OF LRSD: Sen. Linda Chesterfield's side prevailed.

In something of a surprise, the Senate narrowly defeated SB 668 by Sen. Kim Hammer to allow the state to control school districts in academic distress for up to nine years.

The bill is about Little Rock, whose five-year state takeover is about to expire and Hammer, a Benton Republican, would allow the state four more years of control. He depicted the bill as a way to give a team making progress to stay in place as long as necessary to complete the job.

The vote was 16-15, with two voting present and two not voting. It needed 18 to pass. Here's the roll call. The vote was expunged, but with the legislature planning to adjourn Wednesday it would be hard to get the bill called up again in the Senate, then passed in House committee and the House itself.

Chesterfield noted that academic distress affects only districts with majority black enrollments. And she said there was something "egregious" about the Little Rock situation, where the district only learned in February what the test score guidelines, based on an April test, would be for the district to be released from state control. "It creates difficulty," she said, "especially when you change the measures." Little Rock is now being measured by the third different standardized test in the five-year period.

"It takes a couple of years to understand a test," she said.

Now, said Chesterfield, "you're going to keep people for nine years without knowing who your school board is."

Under state control, Education Commissioner Johnny Key is the school board, she said.

Senators from Little Rock objected, led by a passionate speech by Sen. Linda SB 668

"Try to be the parent getting through to the commissioner of education to talk about a local school board matter. You have no say over the superintendent. All you do is pay the money. And if you don't like what's going on, that's just too bad because people don't have to respond to you."

Chesterfield said other legislators would fire a superintendent or vote for a new school board if they hadn't made a difference in three years. "This has been going on for almost five years and you're saying now let's give them four more? To do what? To effectuate what?"

She said the people at the state Education Department don't have to pay attention "and they don't." She also said the playing field wasn't level. Other districts with a higher percentage of underperforming students aren't being taken over, she said. "It's not fair. It's unethical. And it's unnecessary."

Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) noted the bill not only allowed four more years of control, it continued to allow the state to consolidate or reconstitute the district at any time. He, too, said it was unfair the district received "exit" criteria 4.5 years into the process and that the Senate had defeated a bill providing a pathway to local control. "The extension of control by the state makes no sense." He said the number of schools in distress had increased from six to eight under state control.

"Why would we want taxation without representation?  This bill is about Little Rock. That's what it's really about. They are on the track and they are making progress.   What if it was your district? You'd want it back."

PS: This may prove a pyrrhic victory for the Little Rock School District. It would be a miracle if every one of the district's schools meet the high cutoff to be judged out of academic distress. The standard expected is one that almost half the schools in the state failed to meet last year. At that point, sometime in the fall, the state Board of Education could combine LRSD with another district or "reconstitute" it in whatever fashion the board chose. To date, it has been open to proliferating charter schools and resistant to a fully empowered elected school board.

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