AR OTL Opposes Charter Expansion That Undermines Public Education

January 30, 2013 
Contact: Bill Kopsky 

State education leaders tout real education reform agenda
State should not abandon hard won progress improving Arkansas
children’s education in favor of unaccountable and expanded bureaucracy.

LITTLE ROCK – A diverse group of parents, teachers, education leaders, business owners, civil rights leaders and child advocates touted an education reform agenda Wednesday that is backed by decades of research and based on the real needs of students and communities. Their plan builds on the progress Arkansas has made over the past ten years and stands in stark contrast to the education reform agenda of A+ Arkansas, the pro-privatization coalition funded by many of the state’s wealthiest individuals and out-of-state interest groups.

“With the help of Republican and Democratic leaders working together, Arkansas has seen a decade of positive momentum and improved policies in education, which have guided the state towards expanding quality education opportunities for all our students,” said Donna Morey, president of the Arkansas Education Association.

The group presented a list of research-based reforms, which they believe will build upon the state’s recent progress and help boost achievement for all students; including:
• Increased access to high-quality preschool
• Expanded after-school and summer programs
• Continuing improvement in preparation and professional development of teachers and administrators
• Stronger parent, community, student and school partnerships
• More accessible career and technical education opportunities for students
• Continued high accountability for all schools
• Continued support for high quality education for all students

“It is absolutely critical that we continue this progress and that we as Arkansans do not allow our momentum to be derailed by distractions from powerful special interests.” said Ms. Fannie Fields, a parent from Marvell and member of the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign. “We can all agree that our schools need to improve, but our children need solutions that are proven to work, not a rigid ideology that threatens the principals of equal, excellent public education.”

“The data shows that the most effective education reforms are within our reach and within the structure of education that we already have,” added Rich Huddleston, Executive Director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. “These research-based reforms will build on the successful progress Arkansas has already made and do more to improve education quality for all children than anything else we can do.”

The group said that while they are not opposed to charter schools, they are against changes to the way charter schools are approved and operated in the state as proposed by the A+ Arkansas coalition.

“We are for quality schools accessible to EVERY child in Arkansas,” said Richard Abernathy, Executive Director of the Arkansas Association of Education Administrators. “Some of those schools are charters and we think that’s great, but there is already an effective system of accountability for charter schools. We do not want to throw out the system we have to create a new and expensive bureaucracy that will hurt both charter and traditional schools in Arkansas by diverting resources and lessening accountability and standards. We also support school choice, a system that allows students and families to identify and pursue the best individual education option possible, and will work closely with legislators during this session striving for a reasonable policy that supports parental rights to choose while at the same time meeting the constitutionally sound goal of a quality education for all students.”

The group fundamentally disagrees with comments made by A+ Arkansas that public education here is failing.

“It’s true that we have a way to go, but we’re moving fast and need to stay on course for our children’s sake,” said Bill Abernathy, Executive Director of the Arkansas Rural Education Association. “We have one of the most rapidly improving education systems in the country, according to the same sources of data that A+ uses. They are cherry picking data to only tell half the story. They want to throw out a system that is making massive gains in student learning and replace it with a system that has a very spotty track record in other states where it’s been tried.”

Leaders of the group also expressed concerns that the new education proposals of A+ would divert resources from the state, potentially undermining the quality of education in traditional public schools.

“House Bill 1040’s creation of a separate, independent and non-accountable charter school approving and regulating commission is radical—and it’s a serious threat to the equitable and adequate public education of Arkansas children. We believe this is merely the first bill of a broad movement to chip away at the foundations of public education in Arkansas,” said Brenda McKown, a member of the Beebe School Board and officer of the Arkansas School Boards Association.

The group is pushing for education reforms backed by research and they hope the agenda of A+ Arkansas doesn’t distract the state from implementing the types of reform that would make a difference for all students.

Bill Kopsky, Executive Director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel said, “We would rather spend our time and money on reforms that will work for Arkansas students, instead of taking a chance on ideological experiments. If elements of the A+ agenda do pass I hope they will also work to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes it will cost to implement their plans. It’d be a waste of tax money, but at least that way it wouldn’t drain money from public schools and cause our children’s education to suffer.”

The group released fact sheets, which outline their concerns about the A+ agenda and detail their support for research-driven reforms that will build upon Arkansas’ decade of progress in public schools (attached).

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