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Traditional School District Facilities - $1 Billion, Public Charter Facilities - $0

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, April 4, 2014
Updated: Friday, April 4, 2014
Whenever someone begins a sentence, "I'm not against charter schools," that's a pretty good sign, they're against charter schools.

This morning (Friday, April 4th), in a front page, above-the-fold story, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that, since 2006, over $1 Billion in State funds had been distributed to the traditional public school districts of Arkansas for repair, expansion and construction of academic facilities. Determinations as to what districts get and how much are made by the three-member Arkansas Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation Commission. According to the article by Cynthia Howell, "Before 2006, the state did not routinely provide money for school construction, leaving that responsibility to the local districts."

How much did open-enrollment public charter schools receive during the same period? $0. Because charters have no access to local millage, they are precluded by law from participating in the grant fund.

So, in the recently concluded Fiscal Session, Governor Beebe proposed a one-time transfer of $10 Million from unobligated balances in the General Improvement Fund for an Open-enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Loan Fund "to provide short-term loans to open-enrollment public charter schools." Unlike the grants to traditional school districts, the loan fund would be repaid by participating charter schools with interest.

Additionally, the Walton Family Foundation, in partnership with the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, agreed to provide an in-kind matching contribution of $10 Million to provide long-term capital bond financing of up to $50 Million.

Though the Governor's proposal would have taken no money from the traditional districts or their spent-down billion dollar fund, all of the major education lobbies in Arkansas came out in full force against the proposal.

A collective letter of opposition was sent by the Arkansas School Boards Association, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign, Rural Community Alliance, Arkansas Citizens First Congress, and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Separate opposing letters were sent by the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators and Arkansas Rural Ed Association (attached).

If ever there were a bill that the protectionists of the status quo could have supported in regard to charters, this would have been it. But instead, they fought it, as they have every other bill with the word "charter" in it, until the final hours of the session when it became apparent that they had lost. Ultimately, Act 292, though reduced to $5 Million, passed both houses overwhelmingly and was signed by the Governor.

Why rehash a hard-won legislative victory? Today's article was a reminder that those who purport to serve the best interests of public school students only mean students served by the traditional delivery system. And they will fight any support, whatsoever, for the poorest public schools in Arkansas - the open-enrollment charters.

It wasn't enough to receive over $1 Billion during an eight-year period. The traditionalists could not rest unless they also denied open-enrollment charters any opportunity whatsoever to fund facilities for their students.

Thankfully, our Governor, and the leadership of our Senate and House truly believe all of Arkansas's public education students have value.

Had Arkansas Learns behaved as the "Omnipotent Octagon" of education lobbies, in the same bill, we would have fought over $150 Million (on top of the $1 Billion already awarded) in facilities grants which exclude charters. But you see, we have never, nor will we ever begin our sentences with, "We're not against traditional schools..."

To us, public education is not either/or, but all.

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Rural Ed.pdf (114.32 KB)

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Minority Students Denied School Choice by "Desegregation" Exemptions

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Updated: Thursday, March 20, 2014
Only 23 of 238 school districts in Arkansas declared an exemption from the Public School Choice Act of 2013. The act, which allows students, no matter their resident district, to transfer to the public schools in any district which best suit their needs, provides for exemption as follows:

6-18-1906. Limitations.
(a) If the provisions of this subchapter conflict with a provision of an enforceable desegregation court order or a district's court-approved desegregation plan regarding the effects of past racial segregation in student assignment, the provisions of the order or plan shall govern.
(b)(1) A school district annually may declare an exemption under this section if the school district is subject to the desegregation order or mandate of a federal court or agency remedying the effects of past racial segregation.
(2)
(A) An exemption declared by a board of directors under this subsection is irrevocable for one (1) year from the date the school district notifies the Department of Education of the declaration of exemption.
(B) After each year of exemption, the board of directors may elect to participate in public school choice under this section if the school district's participation does not conflict with the school district's federal court-ordered desegregation program.
(3) A school district shall notify the department by April 1 if in the next school year the school district intends to:
(A) Declare an exemption under this section; or
(B) Resume participation after a period of exemption.
  
As a result, there are districts in Arkansas citing 1954's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and its progenyamong their reasons for exemption. In 2013-14, none of the vast majority of districts technically under similar court orders/mandates chose to exempt (e.g. North Little Rock School District). And none were challenged, by the Courts, or otherwise.

By contrast, parents from many of the exempting districts, primarily African-Americans, came before the State Board of Education, begging for their children to be released from their exempting resident districts, many of which were among the lowest performing in Arkansas (see previous post).

While the State Board claimed the law gave it no authority to override a district's exemption, it inexplicably heard the appeals, giving the parents false hope. Then, it chose to vote anyway, but denied every parental appeal presented.

How desperate were/are parents in Forrest City, a district dead last in Literacy and twelfth from the bottom in Math, to educate their children? Those who won the lottery are taking advantage of the only public choice available: busing 110 miles every day to KIPP: Delta in Helena-West Helena. Unfortunately, with a swelling open enrollment wait list, KIPP: Delta's excellent, but inconvenient, lifeline is only available to a precious few.

Here are the exempting districts, linked to their respective justifications, along with their percentage of minority students:
Notice any similarities in the justifications?
  • Six of the seven school districts in Garland County used identical letters to exempt;
  • Eight of the remaining 16 used very similar, fill-in-the-blank resolutions, with nearly identical language;
  • One letter contained identical language from the resolutions;
  • One was a fill-in-the-blank resolution; and
  • Two short letters offered no justification whatsoever.
Eight boilerplate resolutions and one letter all fell back on identical language from the landmark ruling of sixty years ago:

"WHEREAS, the federal court or agency include the original directive from the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), and its progeny, that maintenance of racially dual public schools was unconstitutional and directing that racially segregated schools be dismantled; and the 1969 mandate from the federal department of Health, Education, and Welfare to the same effect;"

The state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District's state-appointed superintendent's letter was the shortest, and by offering no justification whatsoever, perhaps the most honest:

Dear Dr. Kimbrell:

Please accept this letter as notification that pursuant to the delegation of authority of the Commissioner, dated May 13, 2013, I have determined that Pulaski County Special School Distict hereby declares an exemption from Act 1227, the Public School Choice Act of 2013, Section 6-18-10-6 (b)(1).

Sincerely,

Dr. Jerry Guess

Unfortunately, with exemption in the hands of the exempting, the question is why?

Why would eight (8) districts which are between 70 and 85% white use federal desegregation orders/mandates to exempt from choice (e.g. Fountain Lake)? It's either to keep students out, keep students in, or both.

Why would nine (9) districts which are between 66 and 95% minority use federal desegregation orders/mandates to exempt from choice (e.g. Helena-West Helena)? It's either to keep students in, keep students out, or both.

Why would five (5) districts which are between 43 and 59% minority use federal desegregation orders/mandates to exempt from choice (e.g. Pulaski County Special School District)? It's either to keep students in, keep students out, or both.

Why would thirteen (13) majority minority districts use federal desegregation orders/mandates to exempt from choice (e.g. Dollarway)? It's either to keep students in, keep students out, or both.

I can think of only one reason a district would want to keep students out, and it is morally reprehensible and legally indefensible.

Reasons a district would want to keep students in? $6,300 in state foundation funding follows each student to the district of his/her choice. It's simple. If a district receives a student, it receives his/her money. If a district loses a student, it loses his/her money. Under the guise of "desegregation," districts believe participating in choice would be a net student loss for the district. That, and if a district's enrollment falls below 350, it is subject to consolidation (e.g. Stephens).

And why would a district want to do both? They must like their demographics just the way they are, thank you.

Brown v. Board, and its progeny, declared "separate, but equal," not only mutually exclusive, but unconstitutional. It is unconscionable that the very federal laws, orders and mandates intended to ensure quality education for minority students are now being cited in denying them and others the opportunity to flee failing schools, and enroll in the public schools of another district which best suits his/her needs.

The deadline for districts to declare an exemption for the 2014-15 school year is April 1st. Parents in affected districts should insist that their respective boards and state-appointed superintendents (Pulaski County Special, Helena-West Helena) compete for their students, instead of trapping them. To give voice to parents in exempting districts, please take, share the...

Arkansas Learns School Choice Poll

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School Districts Should Compete for Students, Not Trap Them

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Monday, March 3, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, March 5, 2014
On Thursday (February 27th), the Little Rock School Board heard its attorney recommend that, with the recently approved Desegregation Settlement Agreement, the district had "no legal basis" to exempt from the Public School Choice Act of 2013. The board then voted unanimously to accept its administration and attorney's recommendation to fully participate in choice for the 2014-15 school year.

The North Little Rock School District, which was subject to similar court orders as Little Rock, chose not to exempt from choice in 2013-14. Little Rock's decision now leaves the state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District isolated in the county in denying students the opportunity to attend the public schools which best suit their needs, even though PCSSD has been declared unitary by the District Court in regard to student assignment.

Act 1227 of 2013, sponsored by Senator Johnny Key, repealed the Public School Choice Act of 1989 and incorporated a new system of public school choice in Arkansas. Act 1227 of 2013 went into effect April 16, 2013.

Excluding Little Rock, 22 of 239 school districts in Arkansas exempted from choice for the 2013-14 school year. The act provides for exemption on the following basis:

6-18-1906. Limitations.
(a) If the provisions of this subchapter conflict with a provision of an enforceable desegregation court order or a district's court-approved desegregation plan regarding the effects of past racial segregation in student assignment, the provisions of the order or plan shall govern.
(b)(1) A school district annually may declare an exemption under this section if the school district is subject to the desegregation order or mandate of a federal court or agency remedying the effects of past racial segregation.
(2)
(A) An exemption declared by a board of directors under this subsection is irrevocable for one (1) year from the date the school district notifies the Department of Education of the declaration of exemption.
(B) After each year of exemption, the board of directors may elect to participate in public school choice under this section if the school district's participation does not conflict with the school district's federal court-ordered desegregation program.
(3) A school district shall notify the department by April 1 if in the next school year the school district intends to:
(A) Declare an exemption under this section; or
(B) Resume participation after a period of exemption.

The question becomes: If Little Rock, which has essentially been under federal court supervision for over 50 years, has "no legal basis" to exempt, who does? Here are the districts which claimed an exemption, linked to their respective justifications, however thin, along with their rank among 251 districts and charters in Math and Literacy:
Some startling observations regarding the small minority of districts exempting from choice:
  • Nine of 22 exempting from choice have 15 Needs Improvement Priority Schools (lowest performing 42 schools Arkansas)
  • Nine of 22 exempting from choice have 18 Needs Improvement Focus Schools (next lowest performing 89 schools in Arkansas)
  • Eleven of 22 exempting from choice have 33 Needs Improvement Priority or Focus Schools (lowest 131 schools in Arkansas)
  • Seven of seven public school districts in Garland County exempt from choice (30% of total)
  • Seven of 22 exempting from choice are among 22 lowest performing districts in Arkansas
  • Two of five districts in Fiscal Distress and State Takeover exempt from choice
At the Little Rock School Board meeting, Zone 5 Member Jody Carreiro was outraged that the Pulaski County Special School District would deny its students the opportunity to enroll in Little Rock's magnet schools. However late to the party, Mr. Carreiro is not alone. It is inexplicable to most why the Arkansas Department of Education would allow any of its appointed superintendents running state-controlled districts to unilaterally exempt from a law duly passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

To demonstrate the absurdity of PCSSD's continued exemption, consider:
  • Its attorneys and state-appointed superintendent unsuccessfully fought a charter initiated by Little Rock School District parents who had no secondary schools, while denying their students entry to PCSSD schools closest to their homes.
  • Its attorneys and state-appointed superintendent unsuccessfully fought renewal of Academics Plus Charter School on the basis of demographics, even though the school's minority population exceeds that of the City of Maumelle where it is located. Then in the next breath, they admitted that with the new Desegregation Settlement, PCSSD's Maumelle High School's demographics will soon reflect its community. Without school choice, PCSSD is denying African-Americans and other minorities the opportunity to attend its majority white schools.
  • Speaking of the Desegregation Settlement, even thought the Attorney General said he wanted no conditions, and the LRSD and NLRSD wanted open choice, PCSSD's state-appointed superintendent inexplicably got them to agree to only 30 legal transfers among the districts a year, capped at 150 over five years.
  • The state-appointed superintendent also wrested a condition in the Agreement that would force the State to oppose any new Districts, save the proposed Jacksonville/North Pulaski, being created from the current PCSSD (e.g. Sherwood, Maumelle).
  • The state-appointed superintendent's previous district, Camden Fairview, also exempts from choice.
The deadline for districts to declare an exemption for the 2014-15 school year is April 1st. Parents in affected districts should insist that their respective boards compete for their students, instead of trapping them. To give voice to parents in exempting districts, please take, share the...

Arkansas Learns School Choice Poll

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Support Continuation of Act 35 Rewards for Public School Performance

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Monday, February 24, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 24, 2014

After a decade on the books, Act 35 Rewards were finally funded in the last legislative session for school performance during the 2012-13 school year. As a result $7 million has been or will be distributed to the top 20% performing public schools in Arkansas.

With hundreds of schools in communities across Arkansas rewarded, the initiative was so successful that the Governor proposed $10 million rewards funding for performance during the 2013-14 school year as part of SB48 (Section 7).

Approximately $100 per student has been/will be presented to schools among top ten percent in performance, with approximately $50 per student going to schools among the next eleven to twenty percent.

Once the Governor and Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell host the first reward presentation events, local events will be held across Arkansas so Legislators may present ceremonial checks to each school in his/her district.

For more information, contact Gary Newton, 501.804.2048, gnewton@arkansaslearns.org.

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Support Open-Enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Loan Fund

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Monday, February 24, 2014

The Open-Enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Loan Fund (Charter Loan Fund) created by Act 1255 of 2013 is not Facilities Funding, but a revolving loan fund.

It is also not an alternative way to fund facilities. The revolving loan fund, upon which the Charter Loan Fund is based, has been used by the State for the benefit of school districts since 1953, and can be used for the repairing of and adding to existing school facilities, and for the purchase of land for and construction of new facilities.

The supplemental funding would come from a one-time transfer of $10 million from the unobligated balances in the General Improvement Fund for a revolving loan program, not a facilities grant program.

The funding proposal provides nothing for open-enrollment public charter schools that does not already exist for traditional school districts. Furthermore, as a result, the charter revolving loan program does not take any money away from either the Partnership Program or the Public School Fund.

Just like any other time a public school might default on a debt payment, the Charter Loan Fund Act contains specific language that authorizes the Facilities Division to have the Department of Education intercept a charter school’s foundation and categorical funding and apply it to its delinquent payment.

An inequality does exist concerning the potential adequacy of public school funding for public school students, but that inequality and lack of adequacy exists for open-enrollment public charter schools and not traditional public school districts.

Open-enrollment public charter schools in the State of Arkansas are the poorest schools in the state (funded, on average, 27% below traditional public schools), have no direct facility funding assistance, and have no public school facilities provided to them by the State.

Because charters have no access to long-term financing, the Walton Family Foundation, in partnership with the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, has agreed to provide an in-kind matching contribution of $10 million to secure long-term capital bond financing for open-enrollment public charter schools of up to $50 million.

Proposed open-enrollment charters would have no access to the funds, nor could they include the possibility of access in their application, therefore, the loan fund could not materially impact applications for open-enrollment charters.

Even though the proposal would take no money from traditional public education, and would be matched by another $10 million in private funds, those organizations consistently oppositional to charters have already lined up against it.

When it comes to the best interests of students, public education shouldn't be either/or, but all. No matter how one feels about charters, from an adequacy and equity standpoint, students at the lowest funded public schools in the state deserve the opportunity for improved facilities through the Governor's revenue neutral supplemental appropriation.

For more information, contact Gary Newton, 501.804.2048, gnewton@arkansaslearns.org.

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Support SB 146 - Increase Broadband Access, Capacity, Speed for Public Schools

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

$10 million - SB 146

What will it do?

  • It WILL help Arkansas students prepare for the future
  • It WILL improve teaching and learning
  • It WILL serve as a match for up to $40 million using the federal E-Rate program
  • It WILL pay for private provider services
  • It WILL allow for local control
  • It WILL pay for school districts to purchase services from private providers
  • It WILL pay fund school building connections
    • connections to bus barns
    • connections to classrooms
    • connections to administration buildings
  • It WILL be driven by economic need
  • It WILL improve access
  • It WILL increase capacity
  • It WILL help Arkansas prepare for the future
  • It WILL be funded through 2015

What will it NOT do?

  • It WON'T fund ARE-ON
  • It WON'T fund the middle mile
  • It WON'T impact existing local contracts

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We ARE-ON, or We ARE-OFF

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Thursday, January 30, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Of the 42 state research and education optical networks in the United States, only one - Arkansas's ARE-ON - does not serve grades K through 12.

Why? Because with the passage of  Act 1050 in the 2011 88th General Assembly, one word - "educational" - got amended out of the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 1997. With the loss of just one word, Arkansas went from potential leader to dead last in bandwidth per student.

The mission of ARE-ON, a nonprofit consortium built with $140 million in state and federal funds, is to promote, develop, and apply advanced application and communication technologies to support and enhance education, research, public service, and economic development. Its institutional members include:

  • Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN)
  • Arkansas State University, Jonesboro
  • Arkansas State University, Beebe
  • Arkansas State University, Mountain Home
  • Arkansas State University, Newport
  • Arkansas Tech University, Russellville
  • Black River Technical College, Pocahontas
  • Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas, De Queen
  • College of the Ouachitas, Malvern
  • East Arkansas Community College, Forrest City
  • Henderson State University, Arkadelphia
  • Mid-South Community College, West Memphis
  • National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR)
  • National Park Community College, Hot Springs
  • North Arkansas College, Harrison
  • NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Bentonville
  • Ozarka College, Melbourne
  • Phillips Community College at the University of Arkansas, West Helena
  • Pulaski Technical College, Little Rock
  • Rich Mountain Community College, Mena
  • Southeast Arkansas College, Pine Bluff
  • South Arkansas Community College, El Dorado
  • Southern Arkansas University, Magnolia
  • Southern Arkansas University Tech, Camden
  • University of Arkansas Community College, Batesville
  • University of Arkansas Community College, Hope
  • University of Arkansas Community College, Morrilton
  • University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
  • University of Arkansas, Fort Smith
  • University of Arkansas, Little Rock
  • University of Arkansas, Monticello
  • University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock
  • University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff
  • University of Central Arkansas, Conway
  • University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture

Imagine also empowering Arkansas's 475,000 public school students and their respective communities with this research level Internet2 (and National LambdaRail, Great Plains Network, LEARN, LONI, OneNet) access and capacity, unavailable on the commercial market.

For 178 years, access to a river, railroad and/or Interstate highway has driven economic development in our state. Full educational access to ARE-ON will do more for our individual, familial, community and state economic development than all that has come before us.

The absence of one word stands in our way. By removing "educational," they removed education from Arkansas and her people, who should insist it and our future be restored.

The public should never be prohibited from providing for public schools.

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Why Parents Turn to Public Charter Schools

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, December 31, 2013

GARY NEWTON SPECIAL TO THE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
December 29, 2013, 3:10 AM
(Posted with Permission)

For three years, parents in West Little Rock, like waves before them, begged the Board of the Little Rock School District to provide public secondary education where none exists. It didn't.

In the fourth year, parents stopped begging and got busy, initiating an application for an open enrollment public charter middle school, which would expand to a high school. Because Quest Middle School of West Little Rock would be open to all, regardless of resident school district, parents chose a location as close or closer to five of the six traditional public elementary schools west of I-430 than those schools' zoned middle schools. The sixth, Joe T. Robinson, is on the same campus as its middle school.

Because the LRSD and the state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District exempted their districts from the Public School Choice Act of 2013, hundreds of parents are denied the opportunity to send their children to the public middle and high schools closest to their homes.

The District which refused to act, and the District which denies entry are now fighting parents trying to provide public education for their children. They expect them to leave the fifth highest performing elementary school in Arkansas, and bus crosstown, out-of-zone to a middle school which performs among the bottom 2.5% of schools in Arkansas in math, and bottom 3% in literacy.

It doesn't get any better for high school, as the zoned school has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs Improvement Priority School, among the lowest performing 42 schools in all of Arkansas. In fact, three of five LRSD high schools and two of seven middle schools have remained Needs Improvement Priority since 2011. The District has no plans for a high school in West Little Rock.

Within the three weeks before Quest's application came before the Charter Authorizing Panel, the LRSD Board finally closed on land in West Little Rock to build a middle school, and the PCSSD superintendent proposed refurbishing Robinson as all middle school. The two "new" traditional schools would be just 3.3 miles apart. However, both Districts’ leaders said that any construction would be contingent upon successful millage increase campaigns.

The LRSD already has the fourth highest millage in the State of Arkansas. Of the 21 Zip Codes in Pulaski County, three in West Little Rock (72211, 72212, 72223) account for 23% of all public school property tax revenue for the entire county. And yet, the area has 100% fewer public schools than every other zone in the District.

Further, Pulaski Technical College has announced its first-ever, county-wide millage campaign.

With three proposed millage increase campaigns on the table, no one can guarantee success for any of them.

On November 14th, the Arkansas Department of Education Charter Authorizing Panel, chaired by Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell, and consisting of six members of his senior staff, thoroughly and thoughtfully reviewed, then unanimously approved the application of Quest Middle School of Little Rock.

On November 16th, in regard to the Proposed Desegregation Agreement, the Attorney General told the Legislative Council that he agreed to allow the attorney for the Joshua Intervenors and the Little Rock School District to negotiate on the side. The attorney had wanted a ban on construction of a West Little Rock middle school as a condition of Settlement.

On November 19th, before voting to join the Settlement, the LRSD Board passed a resolution prioritizing future Settlement facilities funds for Southwest Little Rock and "Basic and Below Basic students." In other words, not West Little Rock. The Board president said at the special meeting that the resolution was an inducement to get the Joshua attorney to join the Settlement, which he did.

On December 16th, in a 5-2 vote, the Arkansas State Board of Education agreed with LRSD and PCSSD attorneys to review the unanimous decision of the Authorizing Panel.

On January 9th, if the LRSD Board votes to convert parents’ currently zoned middle school to a STEM Academy, West Little Rock parents’ new zoned middle school will be an even lower performing Needs Improvement Priority School.

On January 10th, members of the State Board of Education will decide between the wishes of 224 parent initiators and two school districts' attorneys willing to sacrifice students in defense of their failed delivery systems.

The districts have had decades. Parents will open Quest in seven months.

May the best interests of students guide the Board's decision.

Gary Newton is the father of students in their eighth year of public education, seven years in three Little Rock School District schools and now five months in eStem Public Charter Middle School.

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Little Rock School District: Withdraw Your Request for Appeal

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, November 22, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013

The following was sent to Members of the Little Rock School Board and copied to Superintendent Dr. Dexter Suggs on Friday, November 22nd. 

Honorable Members of the Little Rock School Board, 

Because you did not publicly consider nor vote on the following issue, we wanted to be sure you were/are fully informed.

On Wednesday, November 20th, your Little Rock School District Attorney, Chris Heller, informed (via email) Mary Perry, Charter/Home Schools Director of the Arkansas Department of Education, that the District seeks an appeal before the State Board of Education of the Charter Authorizing Panel's unanimous (6-0) approval of the application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock.

On December 9th, at the State Board's next scheduled meeting, it will decide, by majority vote (five of nine members), whether or not to review the decision of the Panel. If the State Board votes not to review the decision, the Panel's decision is final. If the State Board votes to review the decision, it will conduct a hearing at its January meeting, and the majority decision (five of nine members) made by the Board after the hearing will be final.

The Charter Authorizing Panel, which unanimously approved the application, is chaired by Dr. Tom Kimbrell (Commissioner, Arkansas Department of Education) and consists of the Department's senior administrative team:

  • Mike Hernandez (Assistant Commissioner, Division of Fiscal & Administrative Services)
  • Dr. Karen Walters (Assistant Commissioner, Division of Human Resources)
  • Jim Boardman (Assistant Commissioner, Division of Research and Technology)
  • John Hoy (Assistant Commissioner, Division of Public School Accountability)
  • Dr. Megan Witonski (Assistant Commissioner, Division of Learning Services) 
  • Deborah Coffman (Chief of Staff)
On behalf of the 306 parents who signed petitions, the 222 who joined our Action Group, the 18 civic, business and parent leaders who submitted Letters of Support, and the overflow crowd who attended our Charter Authorizing Panel presentation, we respectfully request that you direct your attorney to withdraw this request.

We will not restate our presentation here, as it is now a matter of public record. Nor will we counter Mr. Heller's assertions in his appeal request, as we will be afforded that opportunity before the State Board. Instead, we call your attention to the path upon which your attorney is choosing to lead our District.
 
Mr. Heller is asking the State Board to vote on an issue upon which you did not vote. Rather, he seems to be making a unilateral decision to seek appeal with the passive, rather than active, permission of your Board. Seeking appeal by the State Board of Education of the Charter Authorizing Panel's unanimous decision is a distinctly separate issue from the LRSD Board's initial vote of October 24th to "not accept" the application, a vote which came six days after the Panel's prescribed deadline.

Also, neither your attorney, nor our superintendent, nor our Board president, nor any other member of our Board chose to be present for the November 14th presentation before the Panel. Rather, it was left solely to Associate Superintendent Dennis Glasgow to make the unsuccessful case against authorization.

By contrast, when the North Little Rock School District successfully opposed the application of Capitol City Lighthouse Charter, the District was represented by its superintendent, Board president, attorney, Board members, and other District leaders.

Our own Quest presentation team included an overflow assemblage of parents and supporters, as well as the entire senior management of Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas, the Charter Management Organization recruited by our parents.

Following the October 24th Board presentation by your attorney and Associate Superintendent Glasgow, the only discussion by the Little Rock School Board regarding the Quest application was as follows:

Mr. Adams: Mr. Glasgow, the Responsive Ed organization, is that a for-profit or nonprofit organization?

Mr. Glasgow: I do not know. I’m assuming it’s for profit, but I don’t know that for sure.

It is illegal for for-profit entities to operate charter schools in Arkansas, and yet your administrator, who should have known better, and your attorney, who did know better, allowed you to vote without correction.

Click here for a complete transcript of your discussion on the issue.

The only opportunity afforded parents to speak in favor of the Board's supporting or remaining neutral on the application was during the three-minute Citizen Comments portion of the agenda. While your rules forbade interacting with speakers during that time, we offered to be available for the remainder of the meeting to answer any of your questions. None were asked.

Though we vehemently disagreed, we understood why you took your initial position in opposition to Quest. You had an active case before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding charters in Pulaski County and couldn't very well support or remain neutral on creating a new charter, lest it be perceived as inconsistent with your legal arguments.

Since then, however, your situation has changed. With your historic vote on Monday, November 18th to join the Desegregation Settlement, you have agreed to end your appeals regarding charter schools. And yet, at a time when our District should be binding its wounds and finally getting about the business of educating all of our children, your attorney persists in a fight which will further alienate those who are simply seeking to provide public education for their students where none exists.

Our parents are doing what our District could have done. In fact, three of our State's public school districts - West Memphis, Pea Ridge and Fountain Lake - are actively partnering with our provider, Responsive Education Solutions, for their conversion charter applications.

Dr. Suggs began his leadership of our District after our Quest Letter of Intent was filed. Ms. Shephard and Rev. McAdoo began their first terms after the submission of our application. Those three leaders have no responsibility for the District's actions and/or inactions which necessitated parental intervention in the provision of public secondary education for their students. However, they along with each member of the Board, are responsible for the actions and/or inactions of this District going forward.

So, we close as we did before you on October 24th: Parents should have the right to send their child to any school they deem best for their child. As we continue to support your work to become "the best choice," please end this fight against our efforts to become an "immediate choice.”

We respectfully request that you direct your attorney to withdraw your request for appeal before the State Board of Education.

Sincerely,

Gary Newton
Parent


Reply from Board President Greg Adams (Zone 4) 

Mr. Newton,

Thank you for your email. Our attorney, Mr. Chris Heller, did inform the Board of the submission of the request for review of the decisions of the Panel to the State Board of Education as follow through of the Board's vote to not support the requests of the recently proposed Quest and Exalt charter schools.

Respectfully,

Greg

Greg Adams
President
Little Rock School Board

Reply to Greg Adams

Greg,

With all due respect, shouldn't our Board be informing its attorney?

I can offer no more counsel than I did in my original email. The success of our school district is paramount to our parents, so we are deeply disappointed that you, your colleagues and administration have passively chosen to defer your leadership and default to continued divisive action.

Once again, we urge your reconsideration of withdrawing your request for appeal. As at the October 24th Board meeting, I remain available to answer any of your questions and address any of your concerns so you may be afforded a perspective different from those you employ and retain.

Sincerely,

Gary Newton
When Arkansas Learns, Arkansas Earns

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A Commentary on the Pulaski County Desegregation Litigation Case

Posted By Michele Linch, PhD, Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I am sad.

· I am sad for children raised in Pulaski County over the past 25 years. Instead of districts aligning desegregation funds to build a sustainable, desegregated, world class education, tax payer money has all too often been used to pay attorneys, promote and hire mediocre and incompetent leadership, negotiate with unions, create positions with inflated salaries, and purchase programs and services that have no chance of making a difference in districts where foundations are fundamentally flawed. You may feel you received a quality education. Please understand that for every child who did not, you have been hurt, we all have.

· I am sad for the children of Arkansas. Over one billion dollars of tax payer money has been poured into districts at the expense of other children around the state. During this time most of what we have learned can be compiled into one huge "What Not To Do” list. And most items on the list, we really already knew. Unfortunately, most of us helplessly or carelessly watched it happen year after year.

· I am sad for the many teachers, administrators and other education professionals who seem so trapped in a cycle of excuses, dysfunction and mediocrity that they’ve lost sight of the potential for excellence. Unfortunately, too many in education leadership, from districts to state agencies to higher education institutions, were mediocre themselves and/or have never experienced excellence or effectiveness with struggling student populations. At best, it’s theory to them, worst, they don’t care. Having taught and led in very high performing urban settings, I do not understand the excuses our education and neighborhood communities accept. When I complained to my principal about the home lives of my students and associated problems, she looked at me and said, "If you think their home lives are the problem, I suggest you find a way to make your classroom a home.” I did just that and became obsessed with learning all I could about serving, supporting and teaching children, especially those who tend to struggle in our society. I have dedicated a career to learning, supporting, communicating and teaching what I’ve learned.

· I am sad about the threat to our magnet schools and school choice. Arkansas has amazing examples (e.g. Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Bauxite School Districts) of traditional public school choice and magnet school systems. These exist because capable student-centered administrations, personnel policy committees, communities and school boards choose to selflessly and competently align the fair share of resources provided them.

· I am sad for parents. Many have no choice in where their children attend school. Those who do exercise choice are often labeled and judged for doing what they think is best for their own children.

· I am sad for our community. We have amazing resources, a rich history and huge potential, yet we’ve become the Land of Excuses instead of the Land of Opportunity.

· I am sad for our economy. Quality effective systems of education drive economic development. The potential is endless, but after over 25 years and one billion dollars it remains just that, potential.

· I am sad for patrons who have been manipulated by those who benefit from dragging out this court case. They have been lied to, manipulated and denied the quality education systems they and their children deserve. They are diverse in race, ethnicity, income and education. Several years ago I sat in a community meeting in the company of several lovely African American women, obvious matriarchs in their families and churches. They truly believed that only an African American teacher could effectively teach an African American child. As I told my story of teaching in a high performing urban setting, one lady turned to her friend and said, "Do you hear this? I didn’t think a white person could really teach a black kid.” They were surprised by the academic performance and lack of discipline issues of the poor minority children where I taught. They honestly didn’t believe it was possible unless everything was perfect. A "perfection” defined for them by the agenda and excuse driven "professionals” and "experts” whose lead they had followed for decades.

· I am sad for the districts that have negotiated themselves into dependency on funds that were never meant to be permanent and policies that go against what we know from research are best for kids. School boards, administrations and teacher unions have not served our children or teachers well with reckless spending and negotiating practices. However, recent forward movement and new leadership provide a sense of hope.

· I am sad for the taxpayers of Arkansas. For over 25 years Arkansas taxpayers from Manila to Marion, Pine Bluff to Pottsville, Gentry to Gosnell, have handed over more than ONE BILLION dollars to Pulaski County schools with little accountability or expectation for excellence. Most legislators, thanks to term limits and lack of accountability and transparency, have a shallow understanding of the case. Politicians and concerned patrons are often fearful of being labeled and politically or relationally damaged if they push back, even when they know they are being fed lies, manipulations and half truths. I apologize because, while I’ve had my courageous moments, I too have sat silent in too many meetings without speaking out for fear of retribution or professional abandonment.

But most of all, I am sad for our children…ALL of them. You deserved better and we failed you. For over one billion dollars you deserved more than a few pockets of excellence only available to the lucky ones. You deserve systems of excellence available to all. Hopefully this new day in Pulaski County education will prompt us all to care, speak up, face our fears and act courageously on behalf of ALL children. This is the least we can do for you.

Michele Ballentine-Linch, PhD grew up in North Little Rock, AR and now resides in Little Rock, AR. Her children have attended traditional public, public charter and private schools in Little Rock. Dr. Linch’s education career began as a science teacher. While serving as the director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Teacher Leadership Institute for ten years, she held positions of college professor and dean. She has served as a Governor’s appointee to the Legislative Desegregation Litigation Oversight Committee since 2005. Currently she is the Executive Director of the nonunion, nonpartisan Arkansas State Teachers Association, the fastest growing education professional association for educators in Arkansas.

Tags:  Desegregation  John Walker  Little Rock School District  North Little Rock School District  Pulaski County  Settlement 

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