I was interested to see Sen. Gilbert Baker and Jimmy Jeffress as co-sponsors of SB 436, a charter school accountability act. It was originally sponsored as a shell bill by Jeffress. Baker, after successfully shaking down the Walton lobby for its previously insufficient financial and political deference to Republicans in the Senate, is now fully on board as the Billionaire Boys Club’s redcap for charter school legislation. Jeffress, on the other hand, opposed the legislation removing the cap on charter schools and other expansive aims of those who want to charterize, at a minimum, the Little Rock School District.
I was particularly interested after seeing amendments grafted into the shell bill.
* It eliminates a current requirement for a petition and public hearing process to determine local interest and support for a charter startup.
* It further limits advertising requirements on charter school applications, both as to geographic area and size of the advertising.
* It eliminates mandatory initial review by a local school district in which a charter proposes to operate.
* Waiting lists would be continued with existing names. Critics say this undoubtedly carries over people, particularly in Pulaski, who’d made multiple applications to schools and had acceptable options. In short, questions already exist about the legitimacy of waiting lists claimed by some charter operators.
* The bill would allow recruiting of students to charters after a school year opens.
* The bill exempts charters from first-year auditing by the state and allows the charters to hire their own auditors.
* The bill provides categorical funding based on the number of poor children, defined as those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The bill does NOT, however, require that the schools actually PARTICIPATE in the school lunch program. Lack of this program can be a barrier to charter school enrollment by the poorest families.
The bill is not without welcome accountability features. Still … I asked Jeffress about it. He said the charter school lobby had asked to add a few “cleanup” amendments. “Knowing that they have the votes to pass their bill (and could possibly block mine), I suppose I naively agreed to have them add to my bill,” he wrote in an e-mail. Now that he’s studied the changes, he said:
“I have asked to have an amendment drawn up that will be run Monday morning to delete me as the sponsor…it will be Gilbert’s baby only, not mine and his. They will get the bill out of committee, suspend the rules to present it, and send it to the House. It can still be passed this week…and probably will be. But it will not have my stamp as sponsor on it.”