LITTLE ROCK — A group of public education supporters touted an agenda for improving public schools Wednesday that contrasted with efforts pushed by charter school advocates a day earlier.
At the state Capitol, the group lauded legislative efforts in recent years to bolster public schools and presented a list of measures intended to enhance the state’s ongoing efforts to improve academic achievement.
The measures include increasing access to preschool and expanding after school and summer programs; improving preparation and professional development of teachers and administrators; strengthening partnerships among parents, students and communities; making career and technical education opportunities more accessible for students; increasing accountability for all schools; and continuing to support high-quality education for students.
"It is absolutely critical that we continue this progress and that we as Arkansans do not allow our momentum to be derailed by distractions from powerful special interests." said Fannie Fields, a parent from Marvell and member of the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign.
"We can all agree that our schools need to improve, but our children need solutions that are proven to work, not a rigid ideology that threatens the principles of equal, excellent public education," she said.
For the last two years in a row, Education Week magazine has ranked Arkansas fifth in the nation for educational policies and performance. In its most recent report the magazine ranked Arkansas second in the nation in standards and accountability and in alignment between different levels of education. It ranked the state 34th in student achievement.
Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said education reforms are most effective within the existing school structure.
The coalition, which also includes the Arkansas Education Association and groups representing educational administrators and rural communities, said it is not opposed to charter schools but is against changes to the way charter schools are approved and operated in the state.
Tuesday at the Capitol, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush headlined a rally sponsored by the A Plus Arkansas coalition in support of expanding charter schools in Arkansas and moving authority the state Board of Education now holds to approve charter schools to an independent board.
He championed charter schools in speaking for more education options for parents and more competition in schools, and he endorsed House Bill 1040 by Rep. Mark Biviano, R-Searcy, which would create a five-member Arkansas Public Charter School Commission.
Gov. Mike Beebe has said he opposes the bill, which has not yet been taken up in committee.