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If Facts Mattered

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Seldom are political issues fact fights. The opposition of the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts to Quest Middle School of West Little Rock offered a recent and virulent example. But if facts mattered, here are the data regarding public secondary education in West Little Rock.

Of the 106 fifth graders at Don R. Roberts Elementary School in 2012-13 (the largest class in the district), only 35 remained in the district as sixth graders last year (33%).

Of the 117 fifth graders at Roberts last year (the largest class in the district), 28 remain in the district as sixth graders this year (24%).

The district's fifth to sixth grade loss is 24%.

West Little Rock's (Terry, Fulbright, Roberts) fifth to sixth grade loss is 61%.

Opening the district's largest elementary school (over 900 students) in 2010 - the first new public school west of I-430 since 1978 - was still not enough supply to meet the demand, thus the cancellation of Pre-K just three years later to free over 100 seats for K-5.

Proposing to finally build the district's largest middle school (1,200 students), contingent upon a millage increase, is way too late and far too little, with a nearly impossible condition.

If demand says building the district's largest middle school to receive the students from the district's largest elementary is warranted, then logic dictates we must concurrently build and/or convert existing space for the district's largest high school to receive students from the largest middle school.

This is an individual, familial and community economic development imperative. The Facilities Study may have turned a blind or jaundiced eye, and the board may be predisposed against it. But if this community is to stop the bleed of the middle class and have any hope of attracting it back, it must immediately provide public secondary education where none exists.

The citizens of West Little Rock are rightfully outraged. Not only do we not have proximate secondary schools, but our zoned middle (Henderson at Barrow) and high (Hall at University) schools are in Academic Distress, two of the 26 lowest performing schools in all of Arkansas.

Meanwhile, because of decades of preferential attendance zone gerrymandering, Edge Hill, Heights, Hillcrest, Robinwood, Foxcroft, Palisades, etc. residents who live closer to Hall are assigned to Central, assuaged into thinking everything is just fine.

The district currently has the 7th highest millage rate in the state. Of the 21 Zip Codes in Pulaski County, three in West Little Rock account for 23% of the entire county's property taxes (72211, 72212, 72223). From 2000 to 2010, our contiguous counties had double digit growth (Faulkner 31.6%, Lonoke 29.4%, Saline 28.2%). Pulaski's? 5.9%.

This issue is not a West Little Rock, nor a Little Rock School District issue. This is a Little Rock Regional Chamber, Metro Little Rock Alliance, City of Little Rock economic development emergency.

Those who have waited/are waiting for others to solve this problem are not leading and risk the break-up of the district, if not the city.

Facts may not matter in politics. But when prospective businesses, industry and residents have easy access to public school data, economic developers and commercial and residential realtors will never know how many opportunities we have missed, are missing, and will miss. For an estimate, one need only look to the county next door experiencing five times Pulaski's growth. And while you're at it, go look at their middle and high schools.

​P.S.

For those who dismiss West Little Rock students as "white children whose parents are afraid to have them in schools with African American kids," here are demographic data which debunk this horrific stereotype.

In every measure, other than multicultural diversity which dwarfs both the district and City, Don R. Roberts Elementary School's demographics are closer than the Little Rock School District's to the actual demographics of the City of Little Rock.

City of Little Rock
White (49%), Black (42%, Hispanic (7%), Other (2%), Below Poverty Index (18%)

Little Rock School District Compared to City of Little Rock
White (18%, -31), Black (66%, +16), Hispanic (12%, +5), Other (4%, +2), Free and Reduced Lunch (63%, +45)

Don R. Roberts Elementary Compared to City of Little Rock
White (58%, +9), Black (27%, -15), Hispanic (3%, -4), Other (12%, +10), Free and Reduced Lunch (26%, +8)

Sources
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/05/0541000.html
http://www.officeforeducationpolicy.org/arkansas-schools-data-demographics

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