“The most callused aspect of the current education monopoly in Arkansas is that it willingly and deliberately forces children–except those whose parents have wealth–to attend bad schools. And it does so with financial resources taken from parents already struggling financially and at the expense of their ability to choose a better school for their sons and daughters.” Policy Foundation report,1 September 1998


(August 2014) The state Department of Education’s recent decision to classify 261 Arkansas public schools as academically distressed is too late for a generation of poor and economically disadvantaged students in seven “failing” districts identified by the Policy Foundation in the 2005-2008 period.


The seven failing districts identified by the Foundation were Augusta, Blytheville, Dollarway, Forrest City, Helena-West Helena, Elaine, and Osceola. Each district received an ‘F’ (failing) grade at least once in four Foundation reports2 based on student performance on standardized national tests such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Stanford Achievement Test.


Educators Slow To Respond


One district-Forrest City-was identified as failing in all four Foundation reports. The Foundation recommended charter school and private school choice options, including tax credits, for students in the seven failing districts:


One way … is to encourage institutions of higher learning (college and universities) to operate charters and receive per-pupil funding currently distributed to failing districts. Another solution is to give tax credits to individuals, corporations or other voluntary enterprises sponsoring students in failing districts.


Instead, educators were slow to respond, costing students years of education. They should embrace private school choice in failing districts.

1 Augusta High School, Blytheville High New Tech, Covenant Keepers Charter, Dollarway High School, Fordyce High School, Forrest City High School, Forrest City Jr. High School, Helena-West Helena Central High School, Lincoln Academy of Excellence, Little Rock School District Baseline Elementary, Little Rock Cloverdale Aerospace Tech Charter, Little Rock Hall High School, Little Rock Henderson Middle School, Little Rock J.A. Fair High School, Little Rock McClellan High School, Marvell-Elaine High School, Osceola High School, Pine Bluff Belair Middle School, Pine Bluff Oak Park Elementary School, Pine Bluff High School, Pulaski County Special School District Harris Elementary School, Pulaski County S.S.D. Jacksonville High School, Pulaski County S.S.D. Wilbur D. Mills High School, Stephens High School, Strong-Huttig High School, and Watson Chapel High School.

2 Witkowski, Mark. Arkansas 2004-2005 School District Rankings (August 2005); Arkansas 2005-2006 School District Rankings (July 2007); Arkansas 2006-2007 School District Rankings (August 2008); and Scoles, Dr. Michael. Arkansas 2007-2008 School District Rankings (August 2009). Witkowski is a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. Scoles graduated from Northern Illinois University.