In response to something on Facebook called Friends of LRSD, the mayor of Little Rock said he will ask the state for a moratorium on new charter school seats in his city.
We’re not sure when he’ll make the formal request, or if he’s done so by the time you read this, but we are brought back to his late campaign, when Frank Scott Jr. told us that he was open-minded when it comes to public charter schools and was willing to support those that help students.
Ah, well. We wouldn’t want a mayor of Little Rock who was unable to change his mind, now would we? (“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”—John Maynard Keynes)
Doubtless, the new(ish) mayor is under considerable political pressure. With the state giving back the Little Rock School District to Little Rock’s residents, or at least its educational/political establishment, the responsibility will once again be on locals to teach the kids. Although the state volunteered to keep the worst-performing schools under its wing, the loudest of the locals wouldn’t have it. So here we are.
And since all this comes right after the teachers’ union was dismissed, there are rumblings around the city. At least in certain quarters. And those quarters know how to get a mayor’s attention. Ask any living former mayor of Little Rock.
But we’d ask the current mayor, and everybody else, to keep some things in mind. That is to say, the facts.
For years—actually for a couple of generations—the most used, or at least most reverberating, argument against charter schools has been: They cherry-pick the best students, leaving the traditional public schools with the most challenging work. With their argument of a New Segregation, those opposing public charter schools claim, or we infer from their argument, that charters skim off white kids.
But let’s look at those numbers. From our friends at Arkansas Learns:
— There were 21,472 students in traditional public school classrooms south of the river as of the start of this school year. The percentage of African American students was 60.4 percent. That’s the lowest percentage of black kids in the district on modern record, that is, going back to 2004.
— The percentage of white kids in the district is the highest in eight years, at just over 19 percent.
— White kids are coming into the district (as well as Hispanic students) and more and more black students in Little Rock are going to public charters. The eStem charter high school has an African American student population of 60.3 percent. In fact, virtually every charter in Little Rock has a majority of black kids.
Folks, the ongoing narrative that charter schools in Little Rock are vacuuming up white kids isn’t supported by facts. The facts are these: When folks talk about a moratorium on charter schools in Little Rock, they are talking about denying choice to black kids and their families.
The irony abounds.
Last year, when the last round of numbers came out, we noted that the U.S. Census Bureau had estimated there were thousands more kids in the Little Rock schools than the Census Bureau had estimated there would be. People were coming into Little Rock’s schools, whether private, traditional public, or public charter schools.
And the numbers showed that almost 80 percent of those kids attended traditional public schools, not private or otherwise. And we wonder: How many other Southern cities in the United States had that large of a percentage of its kids attending public schools, with a large assist from charters?
Resegregation? Racism? Separate but equal? Deja vu all over again?
We beg to differ. So do the numbers.
And while we, and the numbers, are begging to differ, families all over Little Rock are begging to get their kids into better schools. A moratorium on them is no way to meet their wants and needs.