The Arkansas Board of Education’s new plan for a partial return of local control to the Little Rock School District is raising concerns from many. It divides the district into three separate categories that will be afforded varying degrees of local control.
Lower performing schools will be placed in Category 3, receiving the least amount of local control. The curriculum and personnel decisions of these schools will remain under state control.
In 2015, the district was taken under the control of the Board of Education. At the time, six schools in the district had low testing scores. Speaking to reporters Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that it was the state’s "absolute duty" to ensure that all students have an adequate education because of Article 14 of the Arkansas Constitution and the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in Lake View v. Huckabee.
"If the state ignored the academic performance measures and returned all schools without sufficient support, then we would surely have dedicated civil-rights lawyers that would be immediately filing lawsuits saying we’re not meeting our obligations under the Lake View decision," Hutchinson said.
Ali Noland, a parent and advocate for local control, voiced her frustration in an interview over what she feels is a lack of trust on the part of the state to the district. She mentioned that there are F-rated schools in Arkansas that are still under local control.
"The state trusts other districts around the state to use local control to meet that constitutional obligation, but they are not trusting the people of Little Rock to do that," Noland said.
State Rep. Denise Ennett, a Democrat of Little Rock, believes the district needs a local school board that addresses the needs of all the schools in the district. She also believes that an evidence-based method needs to be used to get all of the schools in the district back on track.
According to Ennett, parents of children in Category 3 schools are concerned that their children will have an "unfair target" placed upon them that will inhibit their futures. She said that most Category 3 schools are located south of Interstate 630 where the majority of residents are from minority groups.
"I don’t think putting a label on an underperforming school is best practice," Ennett said. "These are students we are talking about. These are their livelihoods. All of the kids in the school district deserve to have great quality educations. Not just a few, but all."
Rep. Jim Sorvillo, a Republican of Little Rock, believes that the special supervision given to students in Category 3 schools will provide a standard that gives them a better education. He voices his support of the state board’s plan.
"I think that special attention needs to be put on this group of students to help them become efficient in learning," said Sorvillo. "I certainly support the supervision of these cat 3 students in trying to provide them with the necessary tools to be successful."
Sorvillo said that dividing the school district into three categories is not a segregational concern.
"It has nothing to do with racial issue. It is the concern of children, whether they are in the east, south, or west part of our school district. We need to give them the special attention and skills that will make them successful."
A new local school board will be elected for the Little Rock School District in November 2020.