Bentonville School Superintendent Michael Poore, the incoming Little Rock School District superintendent, appeared before the state Board of Education today wearing both districts’ hats.
As Bentonville superintendent, he was required by terms of a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to talk about “career centers” the Foundation has funded in Bentonville. He’s talked about bringing that concept to Little Rock, as Benji Hardy mentioned in a report on our earlier talk with Poore.
The timing could have been more propitious. A series of speakers pounded the Walton Family Foundation yesterday for being the puppet master of charter school expansion in Little Rock, through the offices of their former legislative ally, Johnny Key, now the education commissioner. Most charter schools in Little Rock enjoy Walton support — direct or indirect — and a recent charter school expansion of an underperforming charter school that wants to move into western Little Rock near Little Rock district schools turning out achieving black students has particularly irked Little Rock district supporters. That move is to a building bought by a Walton-related entity. A grassroots movement wants return of the Little Rock district from state control and has been fighting the Walton-backed effort to transfer more and more students into privately operated charter schools that use public money. The Walton Foundation pushed legislation in 2015 that could have turned the entire district over to private operation.
Poore seems unlikely to directly challenge charter school expansion, as outgoing Baker Kurrus did a few days before Key fired him. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Poore had said today — as he’d said to us earlier — that he would be willing to stand up to Key on disagreements about charter schools. The bigger question is whether he would ever disagree. I took this statement as evidence that this would be unlikely.
Poore called the expansion of charter schools in Little Rock “a reality” and said his work would focus on marketing district schools to be more attractive to parents.
I read this as accepting continuing charter expansion as an inevitability. It certainly will be if he doesn’t push back. Then, an increasing percentage of poor and minority students in Little Rock will inevitably make the schools less attractive to parents, as Kurrus said pointedly before he was fired. Kurrus has also said the Little Rock schools ARE competitive and often superior to charter schools. But that hasn’t stopped Key, who’s Poore’s boss, from aggressively pressing for more of them.
Kurrus repeated yesterday that he sees no sense in encouraging establishment of parallel school districts in Little Rock that offer no meaningful difference from the existing school district. Poore has said nothing of this kind.