March Pizza, Peace & Politics

On Tuesday, March 29th, Bill Kopsky with the Arkansas Public Policy Panel spoke on the impact of Charter School expansion on the Little Rock School District.

Here are a few key points from his talk:

1. A couple of points that have not been made many other places:
• The State appointed Baker Kurrus to be the LRSD Superintendent and he has grave concerns about the impact, at this time, of these charter expansions. The State should give great deference to the concerns of their own appointed administrator and give him time to make the changes they’ve asked for before they destabilize the district.
• Expanding the charter schools at this time and without a comprehensive plan is essentially prioritizing some students more than others. For example, expensive but non-mandated programs of LRSD (like the Rockefeller ECC, some of the specialists helping who are below grade level, etc) are likely to be cut as a result of the budget cuts that will come from these charter expansions. Education should not be a zero sum game, but the fact is that the way education funding works these charter expansions will create winners and losers among Little Rock’s children. No one’s child should be prioritized over anyone else. The way to avoid the zero sum game is to take a pause, back up and make a comprehensive plan for education in Pulaski Co that accounts for both charter schools and traditional public schools.

2. I think Baker’s filing for LRSD to the state is a comprehensive list of talking points. You can read the entire filing, but here is also a bulleted summary. You could pluck a couple of these points that resonate with you, add your personal connection to them, and have what you need:

• LRSD as a whole has some of the highest performing schools in the state and is not a failing system, though it has many challenges.
• eStem and LISA enroll higher numbers of affluent students than does LRSD
• Results at schools tend to correlate to income, a proxy for residential stability, health, wellness, parental educational attainment, reliable transportation and student supplemental supports.
• Although eStem and LISA are “open enrollment” charters, the simple fact is that they do not enroll as many students who are academically challenged as does LRSD.
• Data shows LISA and eStem are solid performers, but not exemplary when the demographics of their students are considered.
• LRSD actually has similar or more positive performance when affluence is considered.
• Most public charter performance is correlated to the affluence of the students enrolled.
• LISA and eStem enroll a disproportionately low number of poor students, students who are limited in English proficiency and disabled students. (Baker does not say this, but both eStem and LISA have far lower percentages of students of color as LRSD as well).
• eStem and LISA enroll no disabled students who require intensive services in specialized classrooms.

LRSD stands to lose nearly $8.5 million in funding if the other public charter districts grow within LRSD’s boundaries
• Estimated funding transfer from LRSD to LISA would be approximately $2,014,704.
• Estimated funding transfer from LRSD to eStem would be in the range of $6.3 million per year.
• The real and immediate problem is that LRSD must still educate the students that remain, and these students will be more needy, as a percentage of the whole, than before the eStem and LISA expansions.
• Classes cannot be eliminated, and in the short run the same personnel are still needed. The costs of operation only go down if and when schools are consolidated.
• Closing any school fuels the perception that LRSD is failing.
• These expansions compound the problem, and increase the potential for damage faced by LRSD as it reinvents itself.
• The students who exit are more likely to be higher achievers. This compounds LRSD’s academic distress problems.
• LRSD is already facing the challenge of cutting over $37 million from its budget. The requirement to cut another $8 million or more is daunting.

• The charter statutes do not describe the creation of large, alternative school districts. The statutes describe charter schools as being independent from “the existing structure of local school districts…” Ark. Code Ann. §6-23-102.
• The law was passed to create innovative schools that would employ non-traditional teaching methods at stand-alone sites in an effort to provide new choices for parents, new professional opportunities for teachers, and “learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are identified as low-achieving…”
• Current expansions of the eStem and LISA charter districts do not address these considerations.
• Perhaps this level of spending and duplication would be merited if the academic performance at public charters was compelling, but that is simply not the case.
• The results simply do not bear out the necessity, especially without some planning about how to use the duplicate facilities which exist now.
• Zone 1 encompasses the area of the proposed eStem schools.There are about 3,119 children ages 5-17 who live in this zone, and the school-aged population in this area has declined by about 39% from 2000 to 2015.
• Even though LRSD buses students from other areas to fill the seats, LRSD still has about 1,000 vacant seats in the area.
• eStem proposes to spend over $1.5 million per year in public money to build new schools in an area that already has far too many seats.
• LISA’s expansion school site would not be suitable or allowable as an elementary school under current state standards, and it is not located in an area where underserved children could reach the school by walking. (West Little Rock office building)
• The Constitution of the State of Arkansas requires that the state maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools. Efficiency is not an accident.
• In order to have an efficient system, planning needs to occur.

• Proposed expansions will tend to increase the percentage of students of poverty, non-English speakers and special education students in LRSD and the other public schools which serve the same areas.
• An analysis needs to be done to determine if there are there large numbers of students who are failing in LRSD who these charters are substantially helping.
• If so, the practices in those charter environments need to be transferred to the other public schools.
• Thus far, the available data does not show that the higher performing charter schools are employing practices which materially change projected outcomes.
• There is ample research which shows that students of differing levels of achievement who are blended in schools tend to have higher levels of achievement.
• The charter authorizing statute gives preference to granting a charter in a district with higher than average poverty. Such preference would make no sense unless the proposed charter serves enough poverty students to lower the percentage of students of poverty in the host district. These applications do the opposite.
• Such a preference would make no sense whatsoever unless the charter school in question serves low-achieving students in numbers sufficient to improve academic achievement averages in the host district.
• Granting the eStem and LISA applications as filed would increase the poverty percentage in LRSD, and push LRSD deeper into academic distress.

We had a great crowd – thank you, Bill!!

Click here for email addresses for members of the State Board of Education.