Six Little Rock legislators have filed a bill that would provide a pathway to return of local control of the Little Rock School District, taken over by the state more than four years ago for low test scores in six of four dozen schools.

Under control of state Education Commissioner Johnny Key the district remains under state supervision and the state Board of Education has seemed unimpressed by improvements in the district, which is majority black and impoverished and has seen charter schools drain off many of its already successful students.

The legislation by Sens. Will Bond, Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield and Reps. Charles Blake, Andrew Collins and Tippi McCullough makes a key change in a relatively new state law that opened the door to perpetual state control of the district — or parceling it out to private operators as forces aligned with the Walton Family Foundation school lobby have long desired.

The bill says that the state “may” rather than “shall” annex, consolidate or reconstitute a district that hasn’t met criteria for exiting Level 5 of the school distress rating. The expectation is that some Little Rock schools will likely have standardized test scores short of sufficiency at the end of five years of state control and thus be unable to exit Level 5.

The legislation says a district could regain local control if it has demonstrated any of the following criteria: “substantial improvement” in the district;  the state Board of Education has approved a plan to address deficiencies; schools at Level 5 have demonstrated progress, or the number of schools that have been judged at Level 5 has INCREASED under state control. That list point is worth noting particularly. Though apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult because of several changes in tests used, the Little Rock School District had eight schools with an F grade in the 2017-18 school year where it had six schools judged as failing when the state took it over. Those eight must make passing scores on a single test given next month or else the district is sunk under current criteria.

WillLittle Rock School District taxpayers see their democratically controlled school district taken away forever forJohnny Key’s failure to improve it? That is the question. The new legislation would give the state another path. The bill’s success may depend on just how badly other forces want to see the district (and its teachers’ union) permanently destroyed and its property tax riches and profit opportunities given to the mixed abilities of unaccountable and often secretive private school management corporations.