Education battles aren’t so sexy, but half the budget is spent there so school battles occupy a lot of the legislature’s time.
Among today’s school-related happenings:
* SCHOOL SEGREGATION: The Senate gave final approval today to Rep. Mark Lowery’s bill to open up an exit strategy for Sherwood and Maumelle to leave the Pulaski County Special School District. The geographic segregation — should it ever occur — would create two prosperous, majority white districts and leave a remnant district stripped of property wealth and left with a concentration of minority students in the southeastern part of the county. Hey. That’s what choice is all about. Getting with people like yourself. The vote to promote this was 20-6, with eight not voting.
* SCHOOLS JUST WANT TO BE FREE: Remember when they said charter schools would be laboratories of innovation? Remember when they said all the needless state rules held back true progress in education? So if charter schools may be freed from undue regulation, why not regular school districts, too? HB 1377, to give local school districts the same waivers granted open enrollment charter schools operating in the same territory, was endorsed today by the House Education Committee. That committee is more favorably disposed to Democratic legislation, with half Democrats, than other elements of the General Assembly. But what, really, is the rationale for unleashing charter schools and not everybody else?
* WHEN THE FOX GUARDS THE HENHOUSE CHECK THE FOX: Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock today filed HB 1605 to require transparency when the state Board of Education takes over a school district. You could guess which school district the freshman from Little Rock might have in mind.
It requires the department to specify reasons a district has been taken over and what is necessary for a district to resume autonomy. But it is primarily directed at openness for documents related to state important — significantly including those maintained by a subcontractor or other third party related to the district. The state must notify the legislature if any such contracts or entered and with whom, plus terms.
Critics of the state takeover have been concerned that it’s the first step toward something that’s happened in other cities — an evaluation by a consultant who then recommended privatizing of schools and contracts with outside parties. Access to that information was so limited in Philadelphia that unhappy school district patrons filed a lawsuit. In Little Rock, apart from the takeover effort, the same consultant who worked on the Philadelphia plan has been hired by the Walton Family Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to study the Little Rock District and come up with improvement strategies.
Who could possibly quarrel with total transparency?