Eye-opening testimony occurred after hours Tuesday night at a meeting of the House Education Committee on Rep. Clarke Tucker’s bill to prevent the state from authorizing new charter schools in districts that are under state control.

The bill failed in committee on a voice vote.

But the failure came after stunning testimony from Education Commissioner Johnny Key: He opposed the bill. He apparently doesn’t care how much damage new charter schools might be do to the Little Rock School District for which he is now the “School Board” under state control.

Former state Education Board member Sam Ledbetter testified for the bill. He said the state had a conflict in running a school district while also making the decision on new charter schools that could leach students from that district.


Ledbetter said expanding charters in such a situation is not “sound policy” because it makes the state “coach of both teams.”

“When I voted for state takeover of the Little Rock School District, my own district,  I had in mind the state would do everything it could to succeed. Allowing them to double enrollment for charter  schools, was not what I anticipated. It was shock to me, a shock to my community and a betrayal of trust.”

Ledbetter noted that eStem and LISA charter schools doubled enrollment caps within months after the state took over the Little Rock district.

Key, a former senator and long advocate of home school, charters and the damaging bill this session to force turnover of school district buildings to charter schools, testified against the bill. He said he “understood” what Ledbetter had said in the context of a “zero sum” game in which some win and some lose.

But he said he had to view the state as a whole. He disputed that new charter schools were damaging to existing school districts. “We reject the notion that somehow one is exclusive of the others. We think success can continue.”

Scott Shirey of the KIPP charter school also spoke against the bill. He said his school’s growth and charter school growth in Blytheville would have been impeded by this legislation.


Tucker said the KIPP situation wasn’t analogous to his bill. For one thing, districts Shirey referenced, such as Blytheville, were not in state takeover. And situations he outlined wouldn’t apply because Shirey expanded to places where districts weren’t in state takeover.

Remember this testimony when you vote May 9 on giving Johnny Key another half-billion dollars in property taxes to control in the Little Rock School District. Does he have your public school district in mind or more charter schools? The evidence tonight looked clear to me.

Key made a rare public appearance. He has refused countless requests for interviews, though he serves as a School Board asking for a half-billion dollars in new taxes. He has presented more questions tonight And, I learned today, one of those questions is whether he is the author of the unfair-playing-field bill that requires school districts to sell vacant buildings to charter schools on terms wholly favorable to charter schools

The question for voters in Little Rock is very simple: Do they want taxation without representation? And does Johnny Key envision a future in a bill he supported in 2015 that would allow private operators to take over the Little Rock School District even if so few as a single school of 48 (and one with mostly non-English speakers) fails to meet an arbitrary passing score on a standardized test?

In a real election world, the school board would answer these questions. In the surreal world of accountability for the Little Rock School District but no one else, it gets crickets.