The Walton family effort to redesign publicly financed schools in their image — they prefer essentially privatized operations unanswerable to elected school boards and stripped of teacher association representation, preferably with "out-counseling" of difficult students to the remnant real public schools — is familiar by now in Arkansas.
But the Billionaire Boys Club is at work nationally.
That effort gets a rip on this blog in Massachusetts.
You see, here in Massachusetts, the annual occasion on which politicians and advocates for children spend the day bepraising teachers rather than besmirching them just happens to fall right smack in the middle of cap-raising season. For non-excellence lovers: the “cap” is the artificial limit on excellence and innovation that is prohibiting our children from reaching their fullest 21st century workplace skills and prosperity potential. But who among us has the enormous wealth to fund the grassroots movement well-oiled lobbying machine necessary to at last remove the constraints on excellence (and also sneak in a sneaky provision that will force public school districts to hand over “underutilized” property to privately operated charter operators at “rent controlled prices”)? Meet the generous hosts of today’s event, the Waltons: John-Boy, Zeb, Grandma and Olivia Alice, Jim, Rob and Christy. On this special day, we lift our caps to them!
It turns out that Walmart money is paying for virtually every aspect of the campaign to eliminate the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. Millions in Walmart dough is being steered to the groups that advocate for charter school expansion, finance the construction of new charters, conduct the polls showing growing public support for more charters and place strategic op-eds calling for more charters. Some $2 million of that money, by the way, goes to individual academies of excellence and innovation, like MATCH and Excel, whose students are transformed into junior lobbyists come cap raising season. Breaking news: a new poll finds that support for excellence rises as voters learn more about its excellence.
All the lobby groups and tactics outlined in Massachusetts are fully deployed by Walton money here, including a Walton-financed arm at their wholly owned university in Fayetteville (nominally known as the University of Arkansas) designed to turn out "research" to validate their view of education.
Such virtual schools appear to be a risky public investment, according to this new research from the National Education Policy Center. The report reviewed 311 full-time virtual schools with 200,000 students, the majority in "charters" operated by education management organizations such as K12 Inc., the management organization for the Arkansas Virtual Academy's elementary and middle schools. Bottom line:
Compared with conventional public schools, researchers found that full-time virtual schools serve relatively few Black and Hispanic students [Arkansas's "virtual" schoolers are 90 percent white], students who are poor, and special education students. In addition, on the common metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), state performance rankings, and graduation rates, full-time virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools. [In the report, the Arkansas virtual school in 2011, the most recent data available, didn't meet the annual yearly progress standard}
To date, claims made in support of expanding virtual education are largely unsupported by high quality research evidence.
Among the recommendations:
Policymakers should slow or stop growth of virtual schools until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
Too late for Arkansas.
The school, Lauer reports, has come up with an all-hands-on-deck traffic warden system augmented by private security. It COULD stagger school start and release times, but, no, that would be inconvenient to the school. I mean, really, inconvenience the school just because of a couple of cranky neighbors?
I was most interested in the school's remark that it had been "blind-sided" by the city's enforcement of zoning rules.
Through the wonder of the Internet, you can go back to January 2011 when the Planning Commission approved an expansion for LISA to 600 students. It had to present a detailed plan to qualify for that expansion and it included a great deal of discussion of and accommodation for the traffic that would be generated by a facility serving 600 students. LISA was well aware of planning rules then and traffic needs then. Was it really blind-sided by the city's interest NOW in the fact that it had increased enrollment by almost a third over what had been permitted without first going through the required city planning process? I remain interested in any internal communications at the alleged public school about this expansion plan. Did no one remember the 2011 hearing at which traffic requirements were put in place for 600 students? Maybe LISA was just blind-sided by learning that rules really do apply to them. That's not what charter schools in Arkansas had been accustomed to in their beginning years.
A city planning process in which major facility expansions are approved after the fact is not a planning process at all. But once Jess Askew is done with the City Board at a coming hearing, I'm sure this can be worked out. Maybe Walton charter school lobbyist Luke Gordy can also come down and back Askew up. How can Arkansas have school choice if grouchy neighbors and city hall bureaucrats and laws and petty stuff like that get in the way?
PS — In pinpointing the school on a Google map, I happened to run across a comment about LISA by someone who described herself as an unhappy parent of a former student. Her observations included this remark about the 2011-2012 school year, BEFORE the 190-student expansion.
... Getting in and out is a nightmare. There is no parking, no real traffic control, and the street is full of horrible potholes. ....
Good story from Rob Moritz of Stephens Media on an underhanded little ol' amendment from Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home to open the flood gates of state money to support home schoolers with tax dollars.
State Education Director Tom Kimbrell and others have objected to multiplying the 500-student cap on allowable state funding for the Arkansas Virtual Academy to 5,000 and allow it to move into getting money for high school students. This could put $28 million into a venture that is nothing like a real school.
The virtual acadlemy is styled as a charter school. It began as an offshoot of a scam developed by slot machine junkie Bill Bennett and others. They came up with a private corporation to sell assistance to home schoolers. Then they set about pushing ways to transfer funding equivalent to the amount states spend on conventional public school students to the likes of the Virtual Academy. No gyms. No cafeterias. No full faculties. No buses. Etc. But the same funding that real schools receive for each student enrolled, in Arkansas more than $6,000 per student per year. It makes a voucher system for private church schools, even those teaching magic in place of science, seem positiviely responsible.
Anyone is welcome to home school. Private enterprise is welcome to sell material and support to those who choose to do so. But transfer $6,000-plus a year to enrich operators of this system for each student?
And for what? Results across the country haven't been impressive. A sample bit of commentary from Diane Ravitch, the education who's marked virtual school failures all over the country:
So far, there is not a scintilla of evidence that virtual instruction is good education, at least not in the way it is being sold by its advocates. Test scores are low; graduation rates are low; attrition is high. And why in the world should children in grades K-8 be isolated from any peer interactions during their formative years?
More and more evidence is emerging about the importance of non-cognitive skills, such as the ability to communicate with others and work with others. Can that be learned in isolation?
Some morning mail musings:
* THE UNIVERSITY OF MONEY: The University of Arkansas yesterday folded on fighting release of documents about multi-million-dollar overspending in its Advancement Division. It wouldn't admit it was wrong in calling these personnel records. It merely said the affected personnel had agreed to the release. The core of it is that a $340,000-a-year division chief hired 20 people that revenue didn't exist to pay. Spending was heading toward a $5 million deficit before the operation got reined in.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the released documents this morning. This left me a little sore because I had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for these same documents before the ADG filed the lawsuit that finally dislodged the papers. The UA was going to lose the lawsuit and damn sure didn't want a court precedent on the matter. So they coughed up the documents, but only to the D-G.
So where were the documents I requested? I fired off an e-mail to top flack John Diamond this morning. You could FOI it. I said the university decision to ignore my pending request for the same material in yesterday's release was "chickenshit." UA haughtiness and a devotion to money and power is hardly new (think selling parts of university to wealthy donors and keeping details secret). The more money you have, the more deference you get. Anyway, for your reading pleasure, here are the documents belatedly supplied to me.
* Letter to Democrat-Gazette on the release.
* Related documents:
* Parts One
* and Two
* and Three
* and Fourled from the House chamber yesterday after a disjointed speech. He apparently received some medical attention later. I've been unable to make direct contact, but legislative colleagues tell me, whatever the medical condition he suffered, events of recent days had troubled McElroy. I know exactly the feeling. Thursday, McElroy was visibly upset at an unexpected floor fight by Republicans to oppose an effort to allow the Arkansas Career Education Department to seek money to pay for GED tests. Arkansas has always paid the cost of testing people seeking equivalency diplomas. A change in the test is likely going to require an expensive fee increase, which is expected to discourage people from taking the test. Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers, particularly, railed against taxpayer help for these people. (She's built quite a record this session of sneering at money for the needy.) McElroy, who told colleagues he had a high school education himself, said he came to the legislature to help poor people. His speech yesterday followed a lengthy opening prayer, which he mentioned in his floor remarks, by Allen Jackson, a pastor of one of the Republican legislators. It's been described as overtly political. He spoke of the "tremendous victories" on anti-abortion and pro-gun bills and offered prayer for those who voted against such legislation. McElroy told colleagues I've spoken with afterward that he viewed prayer as a religious, not political exercise. Normally, you could view some of these happenings on the House video archives, but neither the portion of Thursday's session when the GED fight was waged nor any of yesterday's events are currently available.
UPDATE: I'm informed the videos should all be up by Monday. Thursday a mechanical glitch delayed posting of the GED nonsense. Also, I'm informed Rep. McElroy is receiving treatment at UAMS. Many others have talked to him or heard about the legislative pressure that added to whatever medical condition he's enduring. He's just about the only legislator to lose a bill this session on the floor — having been defeated in an effort to bring elemental fairness (instead of a gift to timber owners) by equalizing the small tax rates assessed to support a local levee district. Republicans wouldn't stand for it, despite committee approval. Then came the stomping of GED test takers and a prayer for the souls of those who believe in a woman's right to choose and resist church as an appropriate place for guns. It's nothing to see when you're feeling poorly. I hope McElroy, with his passion for poor people, returns. Poor folks need every vote they can muster. I'm told he turned in a legislative license plate before leaving Friday and also gave the keys to his car to somebody in Pine Bluff before sticking out his thumb for the rest of the ride to Desha County, where he'd been a successful county judge.
* CHARTER SCHOOL WATCH: Same song, umpteenth verse. The charter schools that succeed — and not all of them do — have an inestimable advantage of committed parents, sometimes committed students and rigid rules that can lead to "out-counseling" for those who don't comply. Real public schools must educate the disengaged and dysfunctional to whatever degree possible. Some charter schools — particularly those with Billionaire Boys Club money — even operate with more money and better facilities. And, now, thanks to Reuters, we know that still more function even further as quasi-private schools:
Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.
"I didn't get the sense that was what charter schools were all about - we'll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?" said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. "It left a bad taste in my mouth."
How best to improve schools? The Billionaire Boys Club way, by tearing down real public schools and creating dozens or even hundreds of individual school districts in the form of charter schools, virtual schools and private schools powered by public vouchers? Or the way proposed by the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign, with key ideas shown in the flyer below. See the whole mailing here.
RELATED SCHOOL REFORM NOTES:
* OUR WAY OR THE HIGHWAY: A story in Tennessee outlines how charter school backers are trying to gut the regulatory law there, as the Waltons and other billionaires are attempting to do in Arkansas. It's about control above all, with quality a secondary issue. From an Education Law Center memo:
The Republican super-majority in the Tennessee legislature introduced legislation to strip away the the power of the school boards in Memphis (Shelby County) and Nashville to authorize charter schools. The power would be moved to a state authority.
This move is retaliation against the Metro Nashville school board, which rejected an application from the Great Hearts charter school academy of Arizona. The school board rejected Great Hearts four times! The problem was that Great Hearts wanted to open in a mostly white, affluent neighborhood and had inadequate plans for student diversity.
In an exposé in the Arizona Republic a few months ago, Great Hearts was singled out for dubious financial self-dealing. ...
Nashville’s insistence on turning down this particular application infuriated State Commissioner Kevin Huffman (whose prior experience is limited solely to TFA). Huffman withheld $3.4 million that the state owed to Nashville. The governor and legislators were angry too that Nashville acted to exercise local control. They are now talking about vouchers.
... Question: why are the Republicans in Tennessee so determined to destroy public education in their state? Has anyone in the state read the research on charters and vouchers? Or are they taking marching orders from ALEC?
Those last questions may be posed in Arkansas, too.
* CHEATING: More from Tennessee to illustrate how power and structure are more important to the billionaires and Republicans than results:
A for-profit school that was hyped by Republican lawmakers as a solution to Tennessee’s education problems recently admitted deleting bad grades to “more accurately recognize students’ current progress.”
...A December email obtained by WTVF showed that Tennessee Virtual Academy’s vice principal instructed middle school teachers to delete “failing grades” from October and September.
This finding is truly from the stuck record of reports on education research. Nobody has yet demonstrated that charter schools, school vouchers or any other Billionaire Boys Club flavor of the day has yet demonstrated on any replicable basis that they best real public schools in educating children.
But this finding is particularly important because it comes from a group explicitly supportive of the miracle of "school choice."
NEW ORLEANS — A new report by the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University that focused on the success of school choice as a policy of educational reform concluded that the current environment of choice, particularly from the perspective of parents, falls short.
The authors of “Spotlight on Choice” wrote “Based on the focus group discussions, we conclude that, due to limited seats at high quality schools and a complicated application process, school choice in New Orleans currently does an inadequate job providing all parents with access to the best schools for their children.”
The 42-page study, released late last month, focuses on the experiences of 81 racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse families representing approximately 132 students.
... Choice is a two-sided coin, said Jill Zimmerman, research manager at the institute and one of the report’s authors. When choice works, and parents indeed have the opportunity to send their kids to a good school, it’s a great concept. But when the choices of great schools are limited, especially in a landscape where 66 percent of schools received either a “D” or an “F” as their latest state-calculated school performance score, it can be very stressful for parents to take on the responsibility of choice, Zimmerman said.
New Orleans has gone to an 80 percent charter model. The experience in Arkansas is much smaller. Some high-quality chart schools, with the help of additional money and tough participation rules that tend to weed out families with kids least likely to succeed, do well. Many more don't. But the Billionaire Boys Club wants to put laxer regulators in charge and open the floodgates on charter school creation in Arkansas. Sympathetic researchers in Louisiana — Louisiana! — suggest that might not be a good idea.
Sen. Jimmy Jeffress passed modest legislation for charter school accountability in 2012. Among others, it required after the first quarter of the year that charter schools file a report with:
1) The number of applications for enrollment received.
2) The number of applicants with a federally defined disability. (One of the knocks on charter schools is that they must bear far less of the added cost of educating disabled students that real public schools.)
3) The number of applications for enrollment the public charter school denied and an explanation of the reason for each denial.
And how was compliance?
You'll find that several didn't report applications from disabled students, citing the excuse that the information wasn't requested on application forms. Convenient.
More interesting is how several charter schools — including eStem and KIPP schools — dodged complying with the law on the number of and reason applications were rejected. eStem's response for its elementary, middle and high schools was that students are placed on a waiting list until spots become available. What? No one was denied admission? I see. They were merely not allowed to attend for the time being, perhaps the entirety of their school career. This looks disingenuous to me. It is certainly not in keeping with the spirit of the law. The KIPP school in Helena provided an equally disingenuous response. On the near-universal failure to report disabled applicants the KIPP school in Blytheville did reveal the number of students with disabilities it admitted after the selection process.
Several schools' reports, including those from LISA, indicated no student was denied admission.
End-of-year reporting under the Jeffress law will require reports on dropouts, expulsions and test scores.
Buzz increases on a topic I mentioned earlier.
Gov. Mike Beebe, who'd earlier expressed opposition to the Billionaire Boys Club legislation to strip the state Board of Education of the power to regulate charter schools, is now reportedly pushing for a compromise with Jim Walton, the Walmart heir who's leading other wealthy Arkansans in the push for more charter schools.
A coalition of public school advocates, including Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell, had thrown up a roadblock to the Walton legislation in the House. The news now is that Beebe is siding with Walton on getting something passed.
The outline of the new proposal seems to be a codification of an existing charter school review process by Education Department staff members who make reports to the state Board of Education, which is composed of gubernatorial appointees. This would mean the death of the Walton bill to replace charter regulation with a board appointed by legislative leaders (mostly pro-charter Republicans). Pro this idea: It wouldn't change the existing regulatory situation much. Con: Camel's nose in tent. Slippery slope. Waltons aren't known for compromise.
Mostly this issue is an enormous distraction. Pre-K education; after-school work with kids; improving home life; more effective remediation. These are issues with proven worth that could be worked on today, rather than the billionaires' pet education theology, a faith-based idea with little documented results nationally. Why waste time on this? The answer is simple: Money talks.
It's a shame the dickering is being conducted in secrecy. It's a shame it hasn't been accompanied by a public apology from the Waltons' six-figure lobbyist Luke Gordy, who insulted every committed educator in Arkansas the other day by suggesting only the billionaires, not school administrators, care about kids. He presumably would at least exclude those administrators who've hired his wife's educational consulting firm to improve their services to kids in need. And a good job she does, too. Maybe if more people hired her, they'd be spoken of more kindly by Gordy.
Gordy also, by the way, presided as a state Board of Education member over development of a rule that made it difficult for the state to take over a school district for academic deficiencies. He claims such a takeover has never happened. It has several times, but mostly after Luke Gordy left the board to work for the billionaires and the rules were stiffened. Who cares about kids and who cares about money? Good questions.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, who's been the legislative leader of opposition to HB 1040, the Walton charter takeover bill, said the talk of an alternative is omnipresent, but she doesn't know exactly what's being proposed.
"They do not have the votes to pass 1040," she said. "I don't what they're trying to accomplish."
She doesn't sound in a compromising mood. "What was proposed was so onerous and lacked such judgment, how can you assume they'd deal in good faith and do something else that's not as off the chart? How do you take them seriously considering the first proposal?"
UPDATE: Matt DeCample, the governor's spokesman, says what's at work should not be called a "compromise," though it quacks like one to me. Rather, he said, the governor had met with Jim Walton. "They agreed on two things: 1) we do not need to create another bureaucracy to oversee charter schools, and 2) because of the growth of interest in charter schools, the state board spends the majority of its time dealing with charter schools." So Tom Kimbrell, at "the governor's behest," is putting together legislation that would have charter school decisions made first at the staff level in the department. The state Board of Education would then essentially be used as an appeals panel if someone was unhappy with the staff decision. He said details were still being worked out.
This procedure would, presumably, end the charter takeover bill. I've asked Luke Gordy by e-mail, but I'm not holding my breath.
A couple of education items;
* CHURCH AND THE CONWAY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I wrote last night about a new batch of internal documents from the Conway School District relative to Superintendent Greg Murry's effort to continue to allow numerous church groups to visit with school kids at lunch hour. As I mentioned the documents mentioned both an effort to prevent proselytizing and some evidence that it has occurred despite rules to the contrary (a good reason perhaps to think hard about opening campuses to visitors, for religion or other causes, at the lunch hour). But I forgot to put up a link to the documents. Here it is.
It's a long letter from Gary Rubinstein, a proud Teach for America alumnus who's become something of a critic of some aspects of the program to put bright kids with limited training into schools with desperate needs as teachers. Rubinstein also suggests Teach for America and its leader Wendy Kopp have become unquestioning shills for the billionaires' charter schoocl movement and one-note critics of teachers and their unions. He also challenges the cant about charter schools. Kopp responds.
Over the years I’ve been critical of the TFA training model. It’s not that I don’t think it is possible to train teachers, particularly secondary teachers, in five weeks. It’s just that it has to be a very good five weeks, which I still think it isn’t. The student teaching component is just too short with classes that are just too small. But I still support the idea of alternative certification, and have said so even in my ‘anti-TFA’ NPR interview. I also, unlike many TFA critics, am OK with the two year commitment. Though I’d like it to be upped to three years, I can see that maybe two years lures in some people who could teach for a long time after they get hooked on teaching. So two of the largest criticisms of TFA, the short training and the short commitment are not things that I have been complaining about.
... So it was disappointing to me that the theme of the summit, based on who the featured speakers were, was generally about how charter schools were THE answer and how ‘bad’ teachers and unions are THE problem. (And yes, I know that the people who I’m accusing of saying this would quickly deny that they have said this, but, again, actions speak louder than words.) I saw this mainly in the opening and closing ceremonies, particularly during the ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel. In general, the 20 year event left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It felt like TFA was trying to convey the idea that “We figured it out. Now we just have to scale up,” despite the fact that nobody has really conclusively figured ‘it’ out. This reminded me of George W. Bush’s famous 2003 ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign on the aircraft carrier, eight years before the end of the Iraq war. I don’t see much evidence that anyone has really figured out much. ‘High performing’ charter networks have trouble getting consistency within their own schools. Districts where the ideas of ‘accountability’ and ‘choice’ have thrived have only shown success with some very creative math.
... But for me the thing that bothers me most about these reformers is the dishonesty. In the closing ceremony of the 20 year thing I heard [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan say something about how the decision to shut down a large Chicago High School was justified by the miraculous charter school that took its place. After I got home from the summit I did about ten minutes of fact-checking before I learned that this charter school was far from miraculous as they had about a forty percent dropout rate. This inspired my first post that would be called, I guess ‘anti-reform’ though I really think of it as anti-lying.
... As far as charter schools go, you must also be aware of how much attrition they have. As you are married to one of the top executives in KIPP, I have trouble believing that you don’t know this…. The fact is that most ‘high-performing’ charters are ones that manage to get more motivated kids and families and who lose the less motivated ones throughout the years. And the schools that do have the same kids as the neighborhood ‘failing’ school, those schools often have test scores that are extremely low too.
There's lots more. You might prefer Kopp's response, in which she disagrees point by point. It's a dialogue at least. It's not the sort of thing you'll hear when the billionaires hold their self-selected dog-and-pony shows in Arkansas. To insulting six-figure Walton lobbyist Luke Gordy, all real public school employees are self-interested hacks who care only about their paychecks, not kids. The billionaires (several of whom have never put a kid's foot in a public school) are the only people who really care about kids.
Rubinstein's blog has lots of stuff worth considering.
I wish the following news conference had been held this morning.
Corporate Interests Pay to Play to Shape State Education Policy, Reap Profits
Emails Show Bush-Led Organization’s ALEC-Like Role in State Policymaking
Emails between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and state education officials show that the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders. Education advocates will host a press call TOMORROW, January 30th at 1:30pm EST to discuss these findings.
The emails, obtained through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization’s financial backers.
The emails conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy.
Please join us at 1:30pm EST on Wednesday, January 30 to learn more about how FEE staff is involved in shaping state education policy in order to benefit its corporate funders.
In the Public Interest will announce the new digital housing for all of the emails, which is accessible to parents, reporters, and the general public.
Corporate money shape education policy? Surely not in Arkansas. That panel underway at the noon hour featuring Jim Walton, Bill Dillard III, Claiborne Deming and Walter Hussman is just a bunch of humble grassroots activists. Their paid lobbyists, Luke Gordy and Laurie Lee? The Walton-funded school of "education reform" at the UA? The Walton-funded Public School Resource Center (which also enjoys public support)? The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity? All the campaign contributions to Republican majorities on legislative education committees? More greenery. But I'm not talking about grass.
Just in time for the charter school rally to be led this morning by Walmart billionaire Jim Walton and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, among others, comes a timely news article from, where else, the Democrat-Gazette, on Arkansas's fall in ranking by a charter school advocacy group.
The group emphasizes that Arkansas has fallen to 25th in its ranking of beneficial climate for these quasi-private schools run with public tax dollars. But that's mostly because other states, under the sway of similar fatcat lobbying efforts, have gotten even charter friendlier.
Not to worry, the anti-public school group has a recipe for improving Arkansas's charter school stature that — another coincidence! — happens to be a mirror image of the Walton plan for making another big leap forward in this legislative session toward the privatization of American education. Some of the legislation has already been introduced. More to come.
The group noted that Arkansas could improve its ranking by "creating additional authorizing options, increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities, and enacting statutory guidelines for relationships between public charter schools and educational service providers."
More charter schools. Less state oversight. State tax dollars to build buildings, even if they duplicate existing buildings in many Arkansas communities. "Guidelines for educational service providers?" I'm guessing that isn't to facilitate contractual relationships with school teachers.
UPDATE: Twitter photos from the school rally show about 150 people, counting press and assorted bystanders, at the Capitol rotunda this morning. This, after robocalls, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette advertising, incessant Twitter and Facebook messaging, mail appeals and more. The Walton billions haven't fully fertilized the grassroots just yet, apparently.
UPDATE II: David Koon reports on the morning rally. Bush invoked the 1957 school crisis at Central High.
I wish the goal was achieved when those children attended their first class. unfortunately it was not. Inequality just became easily hidden and therefore overlooked, hidden in low-income neighborhoods .... We allowed this to happen because of the soft bigotry of low expectations as my brother talked about.
He said access to quality education was the "civil rights issue of our time." He talked glowingly of the KIPP charter schools in the Delta. "Schools like KIPP show what is possible and they provide depressing evidence of how millions of children have been left behind over the years because they weren't afforded the same opportunities."
He said he hopes people of Arkansas would send a message to "the masters of delay and deferral." Choose, he said. "You have a choice. You can either help the politically powerful groups or you can help the next generation of Americans." Waltons and Bushes are not the politically powerful to whom he referred, of course. Presumably he referred to teacher groups.
UPDATE III: I'm hearing that a centerpiece of the Billionaire Boys Club agenda — to strip the state Board of Education of regulatory authority over charter schools — is running into stout opposition in the House. Despite all the money and all the tub-thumping and all the campaign spending, it turns out others with interest in schools, particularly people in the ground in small school districts, know how to reach the ears of legislators, too. They'll be talking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon by the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign.
A key speaker will be one of the subsidized faculty members the Waltons have installed at the so-called school of education "reform" at Walton University in Fayetteville. Jeb Bush will lend this support for doing in Arkansas what's been done in Florida (scandal after scandal in charter schools and scant education progress, to name two).
But enough of my usual.
I noticed that Jim Cooper of Melbourne, chairman of the state Board of Education, is on the panel. The billionaires want to jerk control of charter school approval and regulation from the hands of the state board and put it in the hands of a board controlled by appointees of the Republican (read bilionaires') controlled Arkansas Legislature.
Dioes his presence mean Cooper supports the legislation? I've said before that he and other current members of that board, including numerous charter school advocates, have done a fair and tough job in recent years in approving some charter schools and rejecting others. The rejections seem to stick in the billionaires' craw, however.
I talked to Cooper this morning.
He said he has some conflicts on Tuesday and he said he also had concerns about appearing on the panel if it were interpreted as a political statement. He said he'd agreed only to appear as an "objective" participant to talk about the board's work in the past and future. He said he wasn't prepared to speak for or against any of the billionaires' school package — easier approval of charter schools, state construction funding for charter schools, virtually unlimited transfers between school districts and perhaps easing of teacher licensure rules, among others.
Does Cooper think the Board is doing a good job now in regulation of charter schools?
"I think they are doing a good job. Obviously, we may have made mistakes through the years. There may have been some that got through that shouldn't have, but many were turned down and rightfully so."
He added that it had been time-consuming and hard work for the board. But, "I feel pretty comfortable with the way I've voted through the years."
He said he didn't want to compromise his objectivity as board chairman by participation next week. "I may have to think hard about that the next few days."
UPDATE: I also asked Rep. James McLean, a Democrat, if his participation constituted an endorsement of the billionaires' agenda:
No sir. I am interested in listening to everybody and finding out as much as I can about all viewpoints
The mention of charter schools in the last item reminded me:
I mentioned before that the Billionaire Boys Club bill to strip the state Board of Education of its power to approve and regulate charter schools had been introduced by Republican Rep. Mark "Bourbon and Bacon" Biviano. No one has yet offered a specific reason for creating an expensive and duplicative new piece of state bureacracy to replace a gubernatorially appointed body that has, particularly in recent years, demonstrated integrity and care in the task of reviewing charter schools.
The problem seems to be that the Board doesn't approve every single application and occasonally calls down schools that haven't lived up to their promises. Who knows what the problem is? The Billionaires don't talk to the public, only to their camp followers and rented lawmakers.
But I should elaborate on my mention earlier that the state Board of Education is not exactly a hotbed of anti-charter sentiment. A recent past chairman, Naccaman Williams, actually worked for the Walton Family Foundation, which has spent a billion and counting on schoool "reform", not counting separate Walton family political expenditures, while voting on charter applications.
Vicki Saviers of Little Rock was a founder of the eStem charter school in Little Rock, one of the most richly financed of the billionaires' projects. Joe Black of Newport works for Southern Bancorp, whose activities include support and financing of charter schools around the state. Jim Cooper of Melbourne has served on the board of one of the lobby groups, the Public School Resource Center, created by the billionaires to promote their school agenda. Saviers also has been a board member of the billionaires' lobby group, Arkansans for Education Reform, headed by richly paid lobbyist Luke Gordy, himself a former member of the state Board of Education. Board member Alice Mahony runs the El Dorado education foundation financed by Murphy Oil money, a key part of the billionaires' pro-charter coalition. What's not to like about these good people?
Finally, on the hypocrisy beat (a grueling task in the days of the new Republican majority), we have Prissy Hickerson, one of the legislative co-sponsors of the board of education-stripping legislation. She joined a group from her hometown of Texarkana a few years ago in urging state Board of Education denial of a charter school application in Texarkana. Her successful mission is believed to underlie some of the billionaires' unhappiness with the state board.
Could it be that the current nine-member group of regulators is tough, fair-minded and, the record shows, quite receptive on balance to establishment and continuation of charter schools? Could it be that the billionaires think that appointees of the Republican majority- and billionaire-controlled legislature who'd make up the new charter school commission (four of five would be legislative appointees) would be far more pliable?
Of all people, the lead sponsor was Searcy's Rep. Mark "Bourbon and Bacon" Biviano, the terror of Markham Street traffic. Who knew of his interest in public schools? The bill has 29 sponsors in the House. All Republicans.
The state Board of Education has turned down some charter applications and noted when some existing charters have failed to live up to their early promises. This is unacceptable to the Waltons and their running dogs, like former Education Board member Luke Gordy, who makes a fat salary lobbying for them. Approve 'em and keep 'em coming is their philosophy.
Ironically, this legislation would neuter a board that devotes a powerful amount of time to the whole of Arkansas education and includes a founding board member of the eStem charter school and a banker for charter schools. The Waltons would put the legislature they helped elect in charge. The five-member commission would have a gubernatorial appointee, one from the House speaker and one from the president pro tem of the Senates (both Republican) and one each from the chairs of the House and Senate education committees (one Democrat and one Republican, but a Republican majority in both cases).
Have the Waltons or anyone else explained what's broken about the current system that requires this "fix"? They have not. Don't hold your breath.
PS — Do I really need to mention that the party of smaller government here would create a brand new, additional branch of government? Another layer of bureaucracy with which to "streamline" education?
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