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News: Arkansas Learns

Silver Lining: Academic Distress Brings School Choice, Transportation to Trapped Students

Saturday, May 31, 2014   (4 Comments)
Posted by: Gary Newton
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With the first-ever designation of 26 Arkansas public schools in Academic Distress, school choice, supported by up to $400 per student in resident district-financed transportation, is now available to students previously trapped by districts exempting from the Public School Choice Act of 2013.

The deadline to declare transfer with the resident school district is Wednesday, July 30th. Click here for the Arkansas Opportunity Public School Choice Act Rules and Transfer Form.

Act 1429, enacted during the 89th General Assembly, sponsored by Senator Johnny Key, and championed by Arkansas Learns, provides:

SECTION 4. Arkansas Code § 6-15-430(b), concerning choice for students in academically distressed districts, is amended to read as follows:
(b)(1) A student attending a public school or public school district classified as being in academic distress is automatically eligible and entitled, under the Arkansas Opportunity Public School Choice Act of 2004, § 6-18-227, to transfer to another public school or public school district not in academic distress during the time period that the resident public school or public school district is classified as being in academic distress. 

(2) The cost of transporting the student from the resident district to the nonresident district shall be the cost of the resident district under the Arkansas Opportunity Public School Choice Act of 2004, § 6-18-227.

That means students assigned to Academic Distress schools in six of 21 districts exempting from School Choice may now transfer to another public school (traditional or charter), with capacity and not in Academic Distress, unless the resident district is under a conflicting federal court order. Under the Public School Choice Act of 2013, districts could exempt by simply declaring they are under a federal court order, whether or not the order is conflicting.

The bonus: resident districts must also pay the costs (up to $400 per student) associated with transporting transferring students.

Academic Distress schools in exempting districts include:
  • Blytheville High School New Tech
  • Dollarway High School
  • Forrest City High School
  • Forrest City Jr. High School
  • Forrest City Lincoln Academy of Excellence
  • Helena-West Helena Central High School
  • Marvell-Elaine High School
  • Pulaski County Special School District Harris Elementary School
  • Pulaski County Special School District Jacksonville High School
  • Pulaski County Special School District Wilbur D. Mills High School
The Little Rock School District, which chose not to exempt from choice for 2014-15, has six schools in Academic Distress, 23% of the state's total:
  • Little Rock Baseline Elementary
  • Little Rock Cloverdale Aerospace Tech charter (conversion)
  • Little Rock Hall High School
  • Little Rock Henderson Middle School
  • Little Rock J.A. Fair High School
  • Little Rock McClellan High School
Two of those schools - Henderson Middle and Hall High - are the assigned secondary schools of parents who successfully fought both the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School districts to create Quest Middle School of West Little Rock, an open-enrollment public charter school.

Other Academic Distress schools include:
  • Augusta High School
  • Covenant Keepers Charter
  • Fordyce High School
  • Osceola High School
  • Pine Bluff Belair Middle School
  • Pine Bluff Oak Park Elementary School
  • Pine Bluff High School
  • Stephens High School
  • Strong-Huttig Strong High School
  • Watson Chapel High School
Districts had until June 9th to file written appeals of their schools' Academic Distress designations with the Arkansas Department of Education. On July 10th, the State Board voted to deny all appeals, and to table Academic Distress designations for six alternative schools in Little Rock (2), Fort Smith, Beebe, Cabot and Hot Springs.

Comments...

Arkansas Learns says...
Posted Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Teresa, I'm sorry for your experience, but what you were told was all kinds of wrong, in both the letter and spirit of the law. Would you be willing to publicly share your experience? Also, did your family find a school?
Teresa L. Sharps (Titus) says...
Posted Tuesday, August 19, 2014
This law is one that "looks" like it is meant to help kids in distressed schools, but in reality does little to nothing to help. When contacted by our school district, we were told that yes, the district would help with $400 toward transportation. The catch, it had to be on their bus, and the cost was $400 per month. Other months of transportation would be our responsibility at that same cost. In effect, parents are still burdened with not only finding a school but supplying or finding transportation for their students. And if that transportation cannot be arranged, the student is still trapped in a failing school, in spite of parents' desires and attempts to give them a better opportunity.
Arkansas Learns says...
Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2014
In LRSD, only the two alternative schools. That means students assigned to Fair, Hall, McClellan, Cloverdale, Henderson and Baseline can seek transfer, within or without district, with resident district paying transportation costs.
Jennifer Stephens says...
Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2014
I know Henderson did not seek appeal of it's distress status. Did any of the other schools seek appeal?

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