Let’s support the Future School

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 158 views 

The Fort Smith Public School Board on Monday (Sept. 28) is expected to vote on support or opposition to a proposed public charter school in the district. The City Wire encourages Board members to support the charter school.

An application for Future School was filed July 28 with the Arkansas Department of Education. Trish Flanagan, director of the effort, and other charter school supporters will on Oct. 14 present the plant to state education officials in Little Rock.

With charter approval, the school would begin in 2016 with 150 students in 10th grade, and would add 150 students and a grade each year until by year three the school would be home to grades 10-12 and 450 students.

Funding for the school would come from the Arkansas Department of Education. A little more than $6,600 of state funding follows a student, which means if 100 students from Fort Smith go to the charter school, the Fort Smith School District would lose more than $660,000. Because the charter school is open enrollment, students from any school district in the state may attend. If by year four there are 400 of the 450 students from the Fort Smith School District, the district would see a reduction in state funds of around $2.7 million.

Approval or opposition to the charter school by the Fort Smith School Board is not a technical factor in state consideration of the charter school. However, Flanagan said the Board’s support would help.

“As education leaders in Fort Smith, a decision in support of our application by the local school board would certainly be a benefit to Future School's approval,” Flanagan told The City Wire.

Our support for the charter school runs along three lines. First, the school will provide a unique and creative option for students that boosts the chance they are exposed to not only the latest in teaching techniques, but are able to collaborate and connect with the workforce skills and demands of the business world. This collaboration, we believe, has a real chance of creating partnerships and outcomes that will benefit programs and students of the traditional public school system.

Second, the charter school would be phased in over three years, providing a window to address any real or perceived disruption – funding and otherwise – with the traditional public school systems.

Third, and certainly not least among the reasons, is that a charter school creates competition. For too long, public school systems in the United States have been protected from competition. While there are exceptions to every rule, competition has positive results in almost any aspect of human interaction and societal systems.

During a Sept. 14 meeting between the School Board and charter school supporters, it was apparent that school officials and Board members were not supportive of the charter school. Money and turf were the two primary reasons. Those reasons were expected and unfortunate. For example, several Board members sought to accuse charter school officials of operating a school that would “cherry pick” the best students. Flanagan quickly squashed the almost breathless panic by telling the board that students are selected through a random process of which state school officials provide oversight. Based on several other questions from a few of the Board members, it was apparent they had not read the charter school application. Essentially, their concerns were borne of fear of the unknown that comes with change, shallow turf protectionism, and money.

Money. That’s a valid issue with a public enrollment charter school. It does draw public funds for each student attending the charter school. However, even that issue does not weigh heavy enough to warrant opposition to the creation of what could be a solid socio-economic asset for this region. This year’s Fort Smith school budget is around $153.5 million. By year three of the school, the district could see a loss of around $3 million, or about 1.9% of the total budget. And if 400 of the 450 students attending the new school are from the Fort Smith district, the district would see a loss of around 2.7% of total population. But here’s the thing: If the Fort Smith Public School District will face a critical hardship from a charter school that could draw around 2.7% of students from the district yet pull less than 2% of funding, then the district has problems that need to be addressed with our without a new charter school.

No school system or learning process is perfect, but the ideas behind Future School have enough history and study to suggest the school could prove a tremendous benefit to students and families in the Fort Smith area. And if this region is to ever recover from the jobs and other economic losses of the past 10 years, it will need all the advantages it can muster..

Therefore, we encourage the Fort Smith School Board to move beyond a fear of the unknown and vote to support this new approach to public education.