The state Board of Education has a hearing Thursday evening on expansion of charter schools in the Little Rock School District. The chairs of the community advisory committee to the district — now under state control — have written the following letter expressing concerns about the expansion. The committee has no power, but meets to hear about progress in the district and make suggestions.
To the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education (SBE):
On behalf of the Little Rock School District (LRSD) Civic Advisory Committee (CAC), we are writing to express concerns about the proposed expansions of eStem and LISA Academy charter school systems.
Our previously expressed concerns for the potential negative impacts of these expansions on the efforts of the LRSD to reform itself into a district with broad and sustainable academic success remain. These concerns were reported to you at past SBE meetings and through documentation provided both by the CAC and the LRSD when these proposals were being considered by the Charter Authorizing Panel. The more we have learned about these proposals and considered their possible consequences, the greater our worry for the welfare the LRSD and our students has become.
We submit that the LRSD already faces more competition in the education environment with more choices for families than any other school district in Arkansas. If competition and choice by themselves led to improved quality of education all-around, then the LRSD would not have been taken over for academic distress. The consequences of choice and competition for existing school districts are clearly complex. Considering this complexity and that the SBE is essentially the governing body for the LRSD and every charter school operating within the LRSD, we ask that the SBE first develop an expressed consensus on the following questions before approving any charter school expansion in the LRSD:
* What is the vision for public education in Little Rock, including the LRSD and charter schools?
* What is the plan for achieving this vision?
* How will this plan be implemented?
* How will possible expansion of charter schools impact the improvement efforts of the LRSD?
* How will possible expansion of charter schools impact students who remain in the LRSD?
* How can the negative effects of possible expansion of charter schools on LRSD improvement efforts and remaining LRSD students be minimized?
* How will possible expansion of charter schools be helpful to the over 20,000 students who will remain in the LRSD?
We believe that until these questions are fully considered and answered, it would be irresponsible to approve charter school expansions. All parties, supporters and stakeholders in public education in Little Rock deserve to understand the answers to these questions as they will directly impact our children, neighborhoods and community for years to come. Because of the state takeover, we have no local representation in these matters and can only look to you on the SBE for answers and guidance. With the stakes so high for all involved, especially for our children, we ask that the time and effort to address these questions be provided.
Greg Adams and Dionne Jackson
On a related topic: The Arkansas Public Policy Panel’s executive director, Bill Kopsky, will join Arkansas WAND, a community group with roots in the peace movement, to discuss the impact of charter school expansion on the Little Rock School District at a meeting a 6 p.m. today at US Pizza in Hillcrest.
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