Public schools in Arkansas are currently governed by two contradictory sections of the same law, which are about to be pitted against each other in the Little Rock School District (LRSD):
How did we get into this contradictory mess?
In 1999, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a law called the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment, and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) established sanctions for schools and districts found to be in "academic distress." "Reconstitution" (as used throughout the ACTAAP) was defined as "a reorganization intervention in the administrative unit or governing body of a public school district, including without limitation the suspension, reassignment, replacement, or removal of a current superintendent or the suspension, removal, or replacement of some or all of the current school board members, or both."
ACTAAP was still in effect when the Arkansas Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) seized control of the LRSD in 2015. At that time, LRSD was not classified as a district in "academic distress." It had been seized because six of its 48 schools were, individually, classified as being in "academic distress." However, in 2017, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 930 of 2017, which repealed ACTAAP and replaced it with the Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability Act (AESAA.) AESAA abolished the term "academic distress," and established the current, five levels of district support. The SBoE immediately used the "state controlled" status of LRSD as justification for categorizing LRSD in Level 5 - Intensive Support.
When AESAA introduced the concept of "exit criteria" for Level 5 school districts in 2017, it also introduced the possibility of state control extending beyond the five-year limit, if districts failed to meet the criteria for exiting Level 5.
Arkansas citizens and the elected Arkansas legislature do not want indefinite state control of districts like LRSD. When Senator Kim Hammer attempted to formalize an extension of state control with SB 668 of 2019, his bill failed. It failed in the Senate, but the vote was expunged, so the bill went back to the Senate Education Committee for interim study while the legislature adjourned sine die, ending the 2019 legislative session. Watch for its return in 2021, but in the meantime, here we are.
ACTAAP's original, five-year deadline for annexing, consolidating, or reconstituting the LRSD is next month. However, LRSD cannot be annexed or consolidated with its neighbor, Pulaski County Special School District, due to federal desegregation requirements. That leaves us with "reconstitution," which is no longer defined in the Arkansas Code.
According to the definition of "reconstitution" that was in effect when LRSD entered state control, the SBoE has already reconstituted LRSD three times:
The SBoE already knew its three previous reconstitutions of LRSD had failed to improve students' growth scores on the ACT-Aspire before it established the "exit criteria" for LRSD to exit Level 5 - Intensive support in February 2019. Thus, when the SBoE picked ACT-Aspire growth scores as the primary quantitative criterion for LRSD to exit state control, no reasonable person could believe LRSD stood a chance of succeeding. LRSD teachers only had two months (not five years, as clearly intended by our elected legislature in AESAA) between the adoption of these criteria and the day their students took this test. "Failure" was inevitable.
We have become guinea pigs for the unelected political appointees at the State Board of Education while they test how far we are willing to let them take AR Code § 6-15-2916 before it bumps up against the five-year time limit in AR Code § 6-15-2917. Our elected Senators stopped Kim Hammer's legislative attempt to extend state control in LRSD, but we don't have elected representatives on the SBoE.
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