Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Waltons fund another education 'reform' lobby

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 12:20 PM

I asked Gary Newton, then a Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce employee, last week about a report from a well-informed source that he was taking off to start another think tank/lobby/special interest group on education to be called Arkansas Learns. He didn't respond to my e-mail.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has reported today that Newton is indeed to be the new president and CEO of Arkansas Learns.

Who's putting up the money to finance this new organization? My first inclination was to say a good place to start would be the Walton family, which has plenty and which is already supporting, among others, organizations at the University of Arkansas, University of Central Arkansas and in the Little Rock lobby community to sell their anti-union, pro-charter, pro-voucher school message, along with funneling huge sums to the election of friendly legislators and other elected officials. Newton has long been a critic of the Little Rock School District and worked unsuccessfully on legislation in 2011 to change the method of election of School Board members so that it would resemble Little Rock government — with at-large seats (far more expensive to contest) holding the balance of power, a structural change that would have concentrated power in the hands of those with the money and upended the current black majority on the board.

I asked Newton about his financial supporters and aims. No response. But he has a Facebook page. Note that it is an "alliance of employers" — as opposed to employees. Note that early friends are the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, the Arkansas State Teachers Association, an anti-Arkansas Education Association group, and, surprise!, the Walton Family Foundation.

Get it?

Indeed, his blog reports that initial funding (amount not disclosed) comes from a grant from, surprise again!, the Walton Family Foundation. He says his organization will be "independent and self-sustaining." He doesn't identify the source of continuing funding, but if it includes the Little Rock Chamber, I hope he'll send a thank-you note to city taxpayers who subsidize it. From his blog:

Newton continued, “The Governor has often said, that ‘education and economic development are inseparable.’ By allying with chambers, economic development organizations, and employers across the state, Arkansas Learns intends to put that statement into action.”

Ally with teachers? Students? What do they know?

Sounds like a newly minted lobbyist to me.

He's Twittering, too — with an early post aimed at urging election opposition to current LR School Board members. He's following a solid-gold list of charter schoolers and "reformers" on Twitter.

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