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A most important bill

Introducing … House Bill 1733 March 12, 2015 at 2:47 a.m.

"Hammer these Democrats into submission. Hammer these people until we tell you to stop."

--State Representative Fredrick Love

That's some order from state Representative Fredrick Love, D-Hup-Two-Three-Four, who must've been a drill sergeant in a previous life. Hammer these Democrats into submission? What is this, artillery school? Or--even louder and maybe bloodier--football practice?

Hammer these people until we tell you to stop. What has gotten under Representatives Love's skin? Why are he and some of his colleagues calling on people to call their state legislators, especially the Democratic ones who'd better do what they're told or else?

It seems there's a bill before the General Assembly that could improve public schools and public education in general in Arkansas.

Fredrick Love and others have been thrown into a tizzy by House Bill 1733, which would allow the state to create a special school district to handle all these academically distressed schools that have been making the news. The bad news.

Imagine being able to take all the failing schools in the state, no matter what county they're in, place them in their own common district so the state could focus exclusively on fixing their problems, send the right teachers and administrators to them, and improve their kids' education and test scores, and generally improve those kids' future prospects.

If House Bill 1733 becomes law, the state might even be able to call in experts who've had a measure of success running failing schools, and see what they could do to help the kids in schools that have clearly failed them. Which is what some charter-school management companies have done from Houston to Helena to Harlem.

But you'd think HB 1733 might be the end of public education altogether if you noted the vociferous protests that Fredrick Love & Co. raised at, well, a protest the other day. For example:

--If the state created a district for troubled schools, why, those schools might have the students spend more hours to catch up academically. Add longer school days. Or have longer school years. More hours for teachers, and no doubt more pay, but great for the kids that need it.

--If the state created a special district for troubled schools, why, teachers' unions might lose some of their precious prerogatives and privileges. Maybe so. But it would put the kids' education and welfare above that of the unions'.

--If the state created such a district for troubled schools, why, those schools might be exempt from collective bargaining for teachers. Those kids' interest would come first, not the teachers' unions'.

--If the state created a special district for troubled schools, why, Personnel Policy Committees might be eliminated! Honest. Under this bill, those committees could be eliminated at distressed schools.

Goodness. Those vested interests that have a stake in the status ever quo tend to get annoyed when somebody suggests change, any change, don't they?

What hasn't been mentioned much in all this hubbub is that Tennessee did much the same thing a few years back, creating a single school district for struggling students in that state. Our neighbors say first reports are promising.

As of today, some 22 schools in Arkansas are said to be Academically Distressed, which means half the kids in those schools have been doing poorly enough on tests to acquire that label. Something has to be done. Something has to change.

Something like House Bill 1733.

As an Extra Added Bonus, HB 1733 might help solve another problem. Language in the bill would seem to let the state contract with a non-profit outfit (read: charter management organizations, like KIPP, which has done an outstanding job in Helena). And if they did an exemplary job, the non-profit could run the school long-term.

Which makes sense. Why would companies with a proven record at managing non-profit charter schools, companies whose services are in demand all over the country--from New Orleans to Memphis to Detroit to New York--want to go into some failing district in Arkansas, get everything up and running properly, and improve the kids' learning and test scores, only to have the state hand the same school back to the local school board that had failed these schools?

If the charter school proves a success, let it continue to be, and open it up to any student who wants to apply for admission. Fair's fair.

HB 1733 is a badly needed legislation in Arkansas. The state needs all the tools it can get to turn around its worst schools and make them among its best.

With the Hon. Fredrick Love's permission, we'll keep on hammering that point home. Even if we don't have his permission.

Editorial on 03/12/2015

Print Headline: A most important bill

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