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Ever since the Central High School integration crisis in 1957, the image of public education in Arkansas in the national consciousness has ... not been one associated with progressive best-practices, but Arkansas public schools did turn out a president and a number of world class artists and scientists. Today, though, the state ranks near the bottom of most indexes of student achievement.

Charters' Facility Needs Would Trump School Boards' Property Prerogatives If Bill Passes

Sarah Whites-Koditschek
Arkansas Public Media
Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) is sponsoring SB308.

Public school districts in Arkansas regularly buy and sell property, pending approval of local education boards, of course. But today, the Arkansas Senate approved a bill that would take some of that control away.

Senate Bill 308 would allow charter schools the right to purchase or lease unused public school buildings, a seemingly small concession that nonetheless raises big questions about local versus state control of schools and inspired a heated back and forth between senators this week.

Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said Tuesday that some public school districts let buildings sit empty, a misfortune he equated to murdering a building.

“We have had schools literally rot to the ground rather than let someone use them for educational purposes. That should never happen.”

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock)

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) had a lot of questions for Clark. She told a Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill is heavy handed, and she said it takes local control from public districts.

“How long do school districts have before someone from a charter school can come in and say, I want to use your property?”

The bill requires districts to sell or lease unused property that isn’t a part of a long-term plan.

Nell Mathews from the League of Women Voters says she sees charters as a corporate takeover of public education. She says it allows too much state control.

“This bill takes away the power of local taxpayers and their elected school boards to decide on the best use of their school facilities”

Scott Shirey is the head of Kipp Delta charter schools in Helena-West Helena. He says after state control of the local school district his charter bought and renovated its empty buildings.

Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Scott Shirey is Executive Director of the KIPP Delta charter school in Helena-West Helena.

“Our charter school kids were in basically modular trailer facilities that were falling apart."

The bill now heads to the House Education Committee.

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