CITY BOARD ENTERS SCHOOL DEBATE: Seven of the 10 city directors responded to a call to sign a letter opposiing school voucher legislation. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and three directors didn't sign.


Seven Little Rock City Board
members signed a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the General Assembly last night opposing the school voucher legislation to provide state tax money to send 500 Pulaski County children to private schools. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Directors Erma Hendrix, Joan Adcock and Lance Hines didn’t sign the letter.

Director Kathy Webb announced the letter at yesterday’s City Board agenda session and invited all to sign. Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson, Ken Richardson, Doris Wright, B.J. Wyrick, Capi Peck and Webb signed it.

The letter questions the value of vouchers, based on experience elsewhere, and notes the ongoing struggles in the Little Rock School District. The city of Little Rock includes all of the Little Rock district and a portion of the Pulaski County Special School District, plus many charter school districts that receive tax money. The voucher bill, the letter said, will further destabilize the public schools without a public benefit.

I asked Mayor Scott by Twitter if he supported the voucher bill. He hasn’t responded yet. Sen. Joyce Elliott, an opponent of the bill, told me in a Twitter message that she understands he plans a separate statement. He has expressed support for charter schools in the past. And he didn’t join in the appearance by several local officials asking the state Board of Education for return of local governance of the Little Rock District, in state control for almost five years. He said he’d spoken privately with members of the board.

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I noted last night a warm comment about Scott by Laurie Lee, a political consultant and lobbyist who’s paid to support the school “choice” agenda financed by the Walton Family Foundation and others. Scott has worked in a friendly fashion with Asa Hutchinson since taking office. He has a state of the city speech Thursday. It’s unclear if the statement Elliott mentioned will come before then or perhaps be part of those remarks at Mann Magnet School. It would be a fitting place for a ringing statement against further damage to the Little Rock School District.


The City Board members’ letter to Hutchinson and legislators:


They got thanks from Elliott.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families also issued a statement opposing the voucher bill. It said, in part:

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families opposes SB620, a bill to create a pilot K-12 education voucher program in Pulaski County. AACF believes that every child deserves a high-quality education. We also believe that efforts to improve educational outcomes should be evidence-based and have a proven track record of success. Education voucher programs like SB620 fail on both criteria.

…The bill would spend $3.5 million a year in taxpayer funds to send 500 students to private schools. The remaining 51,000 students attending the four traditional public schools in Pulaski County would be shortchanged by this bill in three ways. First, they would be denied the extra investment from the Governor’s discretionary funds afforded these 500 students. Second, three of the four school districts would lose state funding for any of their students who opt for the voucher program. When the Little Rock School District returns to local control, it, too, would lose state funding per pupil transferring to a private school under the program. Finally, the remaining students would be ineligible to compete for the college scholarships offered for students who graduate under the voucher program, regardless of their academic standing or financial need.

There’s much more wrong. If, as Republicans contend, an “open education system” is best in Pulaski County why isn’t it optimal everywhere? There are no pilot programs only expansion of programs. Legislators who established a 250-student voucher program two years ago for students with learning problems want to double its size this year and there’s another $3 million voucher bill for all students pending. A voucherized, charterized public school system in the state’s largest county will produce an unaccountable mishmash difficult for parents to navigate. It will be a stark disincentive to economic development.

UPDATE: More criticism here from Citizens First Congress. Lots of details, but they say, in short, that vouchers don’t work, they divert resources from other needs, the private schools are accountable, the legislation harms public schools.

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