The state Education Department panel that reviews charter school applications this morning denied requests by the Haas Hall Academy to expand its Fayetteville campus from 400 to 500 students and to establish a new 500-student campus in Springdale. (Actually, the Fayetteville campus through a quirk of boundaries, is already in the Springdale School District.)
The denials followed discussions about the school’s past exceptions to a lottery enrollment process (corrected now, the school says) and about the existing campuses’ (in Fayetteville and Bentonville) lack of diversity. Haas Hall leader Martin Schoppmeyer said the expansion in Springdale was a bid to expand diversity, but one member of the panel asked why she shouldn’t have doubts given the school’s record to date.
Haas Hall aims at college prep and regularly scores highly on indexes that measure test scores, graduation and college-bound students. Its critics contend Haas has discouraged low-achieving students and, at times, misused the lottery process by admitting students ahead of students on the list.
On its Fayetteville and Bentonville campuses currently, Haas enrolls 647 students, only 10 of whom, or less than 2 percent, are black, and only 51, or about 8 percent, are Hispanic.
Representatives of the Springdale School District opposed the expansion for a variety of reasons, the first being that the application was coming after the normal time for considering charter amendments in February. This complicates the Springdale district’s preparation for next year as contracts are being circulated. Hiring is based on enrollment estimates that could change with a new charter school in Springdale. A loss of students will mean eventually the loss of state support, both in base aid and potential aid for poor students. The district, too, raised diversity issues. Springdale is a diverse district and has been lauded for academic achievements all the same. It has 21,260 students, about 36 percent white and 46 percent Latino. More than 70 percent of its students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.
Haas Hall insisted it had cleaned up its lottery process and made it wholly transparent (a process that eStem and LISA in Little Rock should consider given lingering questions about the accuracy of their claims of waiting lists with thousands of students). But members of the panel cited concerns about diversity in opposing the expansion. Several said they’d like to see the results of the most recent lottery under the new procedures to measure whether it has improved results in attracting a more diverse student body.
One member of the panel commented that the school’s website was off-putting, that it appeared to not include poor students. Schoppmeyer said this was likely because the school students wore uniforms with school crests. He said he was disappointed at the impression because he said all are welcome. (The school, however, does not offer a subsidized lunch program for poor students and efforts by the panel to get numbers on poor, non-English-speaking and special ed students didn’t get specific answers today).
The charter authorizing panel decision will go before the state Board of Education for review. Its members include staunch charter school advocates who’ve spoken highly of Haas Hall in the past.
The vote on expansion of the Fayetteville campus was 6-1 against and 7-0 against the new campus in Springdale.
Coming later today is the controversial application for a new middle school campus for part of Little Rock Preparatory Academy, which wants to move from Southwest Little Rock to the former Lutheran High campus near Park Plaza, a building bought last summer by an entity related to the Walton family, a major backer of charter schools. LR Prep, which aims to serve minority students, consistently scores lower than all Little Rock School District schools on standardized tests. It not only initially applied for a new campus, it applied to expand enrollment, but withdrew that part of the request under criticism from Little Rock School District supporters about the charter school movement’s targeted drain on the Little Rock district for a school that demonstrated little by way of a better option to conventional public schools.
UPDATE: Little Rock Prep is getting some close questioning about whether its cash flow can support a campus change. It is relying on loans from a national charter school management corporation, Exalt, to make books balance. But panel members complimented the “culture,” at the schools, a subjective valuation that one panel member said was even more important than test scores. Test scores alone, of course, caused the state takeover of the Little Rock School District, which posts superior scores to LR Prep. The campus relocation was approved 5-2.