County Seeing School Growth Of $71 Million

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Aug. 18, 2008 12:00 am  

Steve Hickman, superintendent of Episcopal Collegiate, and Jeanne Joyner, president of the board of trustees, stand at the site of what will be the new kindergarten through fifth-grade school.

Some families are willing to find a way to pay an extra $900 a month, which is roughly the tuition at Episcopal. About 20 percent of Episcopal Collegiate students receive financial aid, Hickman said.

The voracious interest of public school parents in eStem Charter Schools, however, perhaps most effectively demonstrates the attraction of alternative education.

About 450 students transferred to eStem this year from the Little Rock School District, a loss that almost doubles its enrollment increase the year before. And that doesn't count the 472 Little Rock School District students on the waiting list.

Altogether, eStem has attracted 1,361 public school students from the three districts in Pulaski County, counting the enrolled students and students on the waiting list.

"If [traditional public schools] don't get better, we are going to absorb more of the market share," eStem Chief Executive Officer Roy Brooks said.

It should be noted that eStem's initial enrollment includes 119 students who transferred from private schools, and another 194 private school students are on the waiting list.

Charter schools, because they have no tuition costs, can act as a stronger catalyst to statewide educational betterment because any student, despite his financial situation, can move to a charter school, supporters say.

For public schools, even one migrating student is not a small issue. A public school can lose $6,000 or more per student in state support, depending on the student and the school. Competition breeds quality, Brooks said.

'Like-Minded Parents'

Brian Gould, who recently moved his two children to eStem Charter Schools from the Little Rock School District, detailed his reasoning.

"I guess the first thing would be the inconsistency and the quality of the teachers," Gould said. "In one class they get a dedicated, educated, motivated, good teacher and the next class they get a place holder, a desk warmer."

Gould also said that large institutions like public schools tend to be too susceptible to outside interests.



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