Trapped no longer

Free at last, thank God almighty …

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

IT WAS just a note in pass­ing. De­tailed on the in­side pages of the pa­per. Just a small mat­ter. A real es­tate trans­ac­tion. A gov­ern­ment thing. You might have missed it.

But it is our plea­sure to promi­nently note it here again. For hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of lives de­pend on it. Their fu­tures. The fu­tures of their prog­eny. And maybe the di­rec­tion of the state’s cap­i­tal city, if not the state it­self.

There is no over-hyp­ing this. The school district in Lit­tle Rock is plan­ning to sell an­other old school. This time to a com­pany held by the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. Care­ful Reader might know where this is head­ing.

If the com­mis­sioner of ed­u­ca­tion, Johnny Key, ap­proves the sale—and why wouldn’t he?—Lit­tle Rock’s school district would sell the old Gar­land School to some­thing called the KLS Leas­ing LLC, a com­pany held by the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. If the sale is com­pleted (when it’s com­pleted?), Gar­land will be the fourth cam­pus to be sold by the district this year. And it would be the sec­ond that KLS has bought from dif­fer­ent sources. The com­pany also bought the old Mitchell School at Bat­tery Street and Roo­sevelt Road.

Gar­land School is also in the area. Just a block or so off Roo­sevelt Road and just down the street from the fair­grounds.

So why would this com­pany held by the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion want these old schools in one of the poor­est ar­eas of the city?

The bet­ter to skim the cream of the crop of stu­dents from Lit­tle Rock for its char­ter schools?

Not likely.

Few would be sur­prised if the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion’s plans are for char­ters. NB: Gar­land School hasn’t been used as a school for 17 years. The old Mitchell School hasn’t been used as a school for 14 years. But both could be on their way to a new use and a new life.

Lit­tle Rock’s school district—like many tra­di­tional pub­lic school dis­tricts—has his­tor­i­cally ob­jected to char­ter schools in its midst. Some­times even mak­ing a fed­eral case out of it—lit­er­ally. The main ar­gu­ment against char­ters is that they use pub­lic money. But al­ways com­ing on the heels is Stan­dard Ar­gu­ment No. 2: that char­ters skim the best and bright­est kids from the district, leav­ing the tra­di­tional schools to ed­u­cate the poor, mi­nor­ity, un­der­achiev­ing stu­dents. So how ex­plain this case?

If it isn’t the in­ten­tion of these do-good­ers at the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion and KLS to skim the best from the rich­est neigh­bor­hoods and in­flate their scores with the kids from the best elementary schools and more in­ter­ested par­ents and the most prom­ise, then what is their in­ten­tion?

An­swer: The same in­ten­tion they have had all along— to pro­vide a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tional choice for low-in­come mi­nor­ity kids who can­not es­cape low-per­form­ing pub­lic schools. They’re trapped. Their fam­i­lies can’t af­ford pri­vate schools, their churches may not of­fer parochial schools, and their par­ents can’t af­ford a home near one of the bet­ter tra­di­tional schools in the school district. So these kids are fall­ing through the cracks in a fail­ing school en­vi­ron­ment, and their only hope is a char­ter school. That is, as­sum­ing there is some out­fit that will build one and op­er­ate one in their part of town.

Fam­i­lies in the Roo­sevelt Road cor­ri­dor—in­deed, ev­ery­one in Lit­tle Rock— should be ex­tremely thank­ful that the Wal­ton fam­ily will not only in­vest the money to build schools there but will also use their con­sid­er­able con­nec­tions to try to lure some­one into Lit­tle Rock to op­er­ate them suc­cess­fully.

As some­body of note once said, through the dif­fi­cul­ties of each pass­ing day, he had a dream. It was a dream deeply rooted in the Amer­i­can dream. That one day this na­tion will rise up and live out the true mean­ing of its creed. That, through faith, we will be able to hew out of the moun­tain of de­spair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to trans­form the gen­uine dis­cords of our na­tion into a beau­ti­ful sym­phony of broth­er­hood. And that one day we will all be able to sing from the old spir­i­tual, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last.

The dream gets closer all the time. And it starts with bet­ter schools.

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