Brian Kisida and Josh McGee, who blog at Mid-Riffs, had an op-ed in the Sunday Arkansas Democrat Gazette on the State Board of Education’s rejection of all six new charter applications. Here is the money quote:
The Board often cited the same tired reason for denying charter applicants: The proposed charter wasn’t innovative enough. Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell echoed this sentiment after the Board’s meeting, summarizing that he thought the Board was looking for “something different and innovative that students can’t get in a normal public school.” Likewise, a Springdale representative in attendance said that “if a charter school is going to go in, it should offer something better or do something we can’t.” Board member Brenda Gullett, at a Democratic luncheon last week, confirmed that demonstrating innovation was the standard to which she held charter applicants. Some version of this reasoning seems to show up in state and local school board discussions every time a charter school is opposed in Arkansas.
It is an undue burden to force charter applicants to demonstrate radically new techniques before they open their doors. Imagine that Taco Bueno had to get permission from Taco Bell to open a store in the same town. You might hear the same anti-competitive argument from Taco Bell: “Why should Taco Bueno be allowed to open? They’re just going to offer the same things that we do. They have tacos; we have tacos. They have burritos; we have burritos.” But of course, the whole point of choice and competition is that a competitor will offer essentially the same goods or services. If the goods or services are too different, it isn’t really competition after all. It’s up to the customer-not Taco Bell-to decide whose tacos are, in fact, “better.”
Moreover, the question regarding whether charter applicants must demonstrate innovation is a legal one. The state legislature has the power to make laws. The Board, as an arm of the executive branch, has a duty to execute the law. And nothing in Arkansas’ charter school law can reasonably be construed to empower the Board to reject charter applicants solely for not demonstrating innovation. The word “innovation” doesn’t even appear in the Arkansas Department ofEducation’s rules and regulations that govern the requirements for charter school applicants.