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State Board Of Education To Review Little Rock Charter Expansion

Arkansas Department of Education Building in Little Rock near the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman

A 3,000 student expansion of the eStem and Lisa Academy charter schools will come before the State Board of Education Thursday night.

Little Rock School District Civic Advisory co-chair Greg Adams told KUAR he hopes board members will consider how this growth could hurt the LRSD.

"To me, it's their responsibility to really look at the whole picture," he said.

"The State Board, they have taken over the Little Rock School District, and they are the accountability group for the charter schools," said Adams."So they really own all the public education that's happening in Little Rock."

The board took over the LRSD in 2015 because of six schools in academic distress.

According to Adams, both charters draw higher achieving, affluent students out of the district. With the charter expansions and the draw of schools outside of the city, he estimates at least 20,000 LRSD students would remain in the now 25,000 student district.

Adams noted that unlike the LRSD, charters do not provide transportation or special needs services for students. 

Yet eStem head John Bacon told KUAR that eStem does a better job than the LRSD, and attracts a wide-range of students that reflect the demographics of the city. He said district officials who criticize expansion plans are too focused on "systems," not on students. 

“We have a number of children in this community who are attending schools that are not getting the job done for them," he said. "It's not about the system. It's about how do we best serve children?"

eStem would partner with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for a new high school, and open a second K-9 campus downtown, east of Interstate 30. LISA Academy would open a new elementary school.

Earlier this month, the State Board posted online a meeting scheduled to approve the charters without a review. It took down the charter review agenda item  after public outcry.

A lawsuit has since been filed alleging the board violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a former News Anchor/ Reporter for KUAR News and Arkansas Public Media.
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