Charter schools have become a growing political issue nationally (if not so much in Arkansas) as advocates of democraticaly run conventional public school districts come to understand the  peril. For reading, an essay on how charter schools are “pushing public schools to the breaking point.”

In Little Rock there’s ready evidence of some familiar points in the article: First, the transfer of students to charters with loss of state financial support; the loss of voter support for the eroding public school district in tax elections, and the concentration of less-advantaged students in the public school district. Efficiency is an issue, too. Little Rock, already overbuilt in some neighborhoods, has been losing still more students in those neighborhoods to charters that have taken over old buildings (purchased by the Walton Family Foundation for lease to private operators.

“It’s really not a matter of whether it’s ‘state’ money or ‘locally raised’ money that’s being transferred,” writes Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker in an email. “It’s about the fact that kids are shifting to charters, and money for district schools is declining at a pace whereby the district cannot possibly immediately, efficiently adjust its budget and use of space.”

Indeed, the ebb and flow of charter schools make it near impossible for school districts to precisely predict enrollment, staffing, transportation, and facilities needs. And because public schools must, by law, accommodate all students, public school administrators are in the awkward position of having to anticipate the greatest need without knowing for sure the students will show up. And should students who transferred to charters at the beginning of the year come back mid-year, the per-pupil funding doesn’t come back with them.

Baker also finds fault in the inefficient way charter schools are configured with their own separate governing boards, separate administrative and teaching staffs, separate facilities, and separate transportation (if they happen to offer it).

“It’s just inefficient,” Baker contends. “Running two systems in a common space is just less efficient and more expensive than running one.”

In Little Rock, there are multiple school districts where there used to be one, with one of the largest, eStem, currently creating not only problems for LRSD, but for  UA Little Rock, made home to a high school on a campus inadequate to handle it.

In some cities, growth of privately managed schools using public money has led to takeover of entire school systems. That could yet be in the cards for Little Rock.