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.
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.
The Walton billions are now being used by the Walton Family Foundation to gauge the mood in Northwest Arkansas.
The foundation has announced new regular surveying of Washington and Benton counties, the Walmart home territory, on quality of life.
Survey report here. Summary:
Overall, respondents said they were generally happy and believe they have a high quality of life but would like to see more affordable high-quality pre-K options, cheaper and more frequent flights to more destinations and less traffic.
And a winning football team, if only they'd been asked.
Drilling down in the report produces some interesting, if not necessarily revelatory findings. For example: Better educated, wealthier residents were more likely to have visited the Walton-funded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Lower income people were better represented in usage of the Walton
-financed supported Jones Center in Springdale.
Education, a pet foundation issue, was covered, of course. Most residents are happy with their schools. About half say they favor "school choice." Choice is, naturally, undefined. It's a positive word and can mean just about whatever the hearer wants it to mean. I'm for choice, if by choice you mean being supportive of quality private schools for those who choose them. I'm not for public tax money going to those private schools, however. A mere 50 percent rating for "choice," in one sense, doesn't strike me as that high.
Survey says 60 percent of respondents believed ethnic diversity made NWA a better place to live. I'd like to see the pollsters in the future ask respondents if the area's overwhelmingly white population is a positive or a negative factor in their evaluation of the region. Just curious.
Even before the guns in church, secret gun permits, fetal gun protection and guns in campus bills, 98 percent of the people in Washington/Benton said they felt safe in their homes.
Also: 78 percent said they favored Rep. Justin Harris' bill to allow fetuses to carry semi-automatic rifles in church.*
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
Some morning moments:
* WHY DIDN'T SKIP RUTHERFORD THINK OF THIS? An item in D magazine reports that the director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library being built in Dallas is using free chicken pot pie ($4.99 typically) from the Highland Park Cafeteria to lure people to a program on the coming facility. W loves the pot pie apparently. Franke's and free eggplant casserole anyone? I'd go to a goat roping for a free bucket of it.
* CHICKEN BLEEP: Leslie Newell Peacock earlier reported the continued theater of the tech park site selection process. Charles Dilks, the consultant picked by Little Rock real estate developer Dickson Flake — and Flake, and Tech Authority Chair Mary Good and her reliable echo chamber, Death Star Bob Johnson — couldn't be clearer. They believe knocking down acres of a lower-income residential neighborhood lying between UAMS and UALR is the obvious choice for this taxpayer-financed, speculative, chamber of commerce pipe dream. Were all the protestations of city board members that neighborhoods will be preserved merely election season posturing, certain to give way to regretful harrumphing when the board reluctantly accepts the guidance of expert Dilks and decides to mow down dozens of homes in the name of microtuning an office building without, yet, a dime of private investment or potential private occupant with a good idea? City Director Ken Richardson wants some assurances in the form of an ordinance that tax money won't be used to take people's homes. The rest of the City Board's refusal to give homeowners that protection fairly shouts at the sincerity of the likes of Joan Adcock and Co. I still think the fix is in.
* CHICKEN DANCE: Oh, OK, that's a stretch of a headline. The Central High School marching band is more likely to play "On You Tigers" than the chicken dance in the Obama Presidential Inaugural Parade, but it is going to play music. It is still short of the $100,000 it needs to make the trip. Take a donation between 12 and 4 p.m. today to the Central High Visitors Center at Daisy Bates and Park. Or go here for other spots to make contributions as well as a link for on-line contributions.
* SIMPLY CHICKEN: There's a new group calling itself A Plus Arkansas, a name used to great effect by a wonderful nonprofit that promotes the arts in school but expropriated greedily (OK, chickenbleep applies again here) by the Billionaire Boys Club-financed charter school juggernaut in Arkansas.
I note this morning that the billionaires have a dog-and-pony show coming up at the Capitol Jan. 29. Ringmaster Luke Gordy, who knocks down six figures in Walton cash lobbying for them, will present a "forum" on "education reform." Speaking participants:
Former Fla. Gov. (and political dynasty heir) Jeb Bush, Walmart heir Jim Walton, media empire heir Walter Hussman, department store heir Bill Dillard III and oil fortune heir Claiborne (Murphy Oil) Deming. I don't think you'll be finding much diversity of viewpoint in this little summit. What? Are they afraid of somebody who might challenge some of their talking points? They could afford Dianne Ravitch. Why not bring her in for a little counterpoint, Luke?
Wow, when the Walton family — which has put more than $1 billion into "education reform" through its foundation and spent untold millions more in separate political activties — indicates it's going to increase its political effort it's time for political opponents to build a bomb shelter.
The Walton Family Foundation is driven by the urgent need to dramatically raise student achievement, particularly in low-income neighborhoods across our nation. Our board and staff are proud of how we’ve helped cultivate today’s education reform movement by investing more than $1 billion in initiatives that expand parental choice and equal opportunity in education.
As our board reflects on the movement’s recent gains and momentum, they see many new and compelling opportunities to help accelerate the pace of reform. In order to make the most of those opportunities, the board has decided to further expand its leadership role in education reform. Here’s what is taking place:
* Several Walton family members are increasing their individual engagement in both philanthropic and political endeavors related to improving K-12 education. All political activity will be conducted separate and outside of the foundation operations.
* As a result, the family will be expanding its staff capacity to guide and manage its increasing role in education reform.
As part of the process to strengthen the family’s leadership role, Jim Blew, who has advised on the foundation’s K-12 education reform team since 2005, will focus on working directly with individual Walton family members to implement some specific philanthropic projects. Separately, he will execute a political strategy to maximize the current momentum for reform.
* As Jim takes on this important new role, the foundation is initiating a nationwide search for a Director of K-12 Education Reform. The search is being led by Russell Reynolds Associates, and all inquiries regarding the position may be directed to Walton@RussellReynolds.com. We anticipate that several outstanding candidates will show strong interest in the director’s position. We are also looking for talented individuals to fill several other positions on our education reform team. For more information on these opportunities, please visit www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/about/job-openings.
Applicants must believe that unions are bad; vouchers are good; charter schools are good and mustn't be subject to the same scrutiny as conventional public schools; standardized test scores are to be taken as gospel; democratically elected school boards are bad for education; state education boards that take charter school applications seriously must be sidestepped and new agencies created that don't take the review so seriously; public universities must teach this dogma and reject countervailing views, and, finally, might makes right.
For a relative pittance, the Walton family has rented sufficient Arkansas legislators to control committees that generally determine the fate of school legislation in Arkansas. It has funded multiple private organizations to carry this message around the state, such as Arkansans for Education Reform. It has expropriated the name, A Plus Arkansas, of a devoted nonprofit organization working to teach arts in the school, for its own purposes and refused to relinquish it. That's the Walton way. Money doesn't just talk, it shouts. And now they're going to spend more on politics? Whew. I guess the new legislature could just outsource the whole damn public school system to Bentonville and be done with it.
HOWEVER: John Brummett Twitters that Gov. Mike Beebe fielded a charter school question. With the Walton forces spoiling to end state regulation of charters and explode the numbers he reportedly says if something isn't broke, why fix it? Hmmmm.
May tomorrow bring universal electrical service, safe streets, garbage trucks to haul the mountains of accumulated wrapping paper, a federal budget that doesn't favor a handful of billionaires and peace in our time. Meanwhile:
* ENTERGY DOES SOME SPLAININ: As the unlit and unheated get testy, Entergy continues to meet with the press to explain the breadth of the problem and the resources now being thrown at restoring power. Talk Business has a report on latest Entergy presser. A good stream of Tweets on the event from Channel 7's Angela Rachels also. A few thoughts:
1) This is a tough job that nobody could have fully expected. But it's poor form for Entergy to blame an imprecise weather forecast (NE Ark. was expected to be worse than LR) for not having people in the right place. Also disingenuous. They weren't going to bring people from Louisiana into Little Rock on the chance something might happen here. And expecting utter precision in a weather forecast is asking a lot.
2) Don't cry for Entergy's expenses. Some of the cost of repairs is already built into the rate base, with a profit margin. If the reserve fund is spent, they'll be before the PSC for permission to recoup their costs. That's the beauty of being a regulated monopoly utility. Your costs will be covered by ratepayers, no matter what.
3) It's hard and dangerous work out there and we all appreciate those who labor in the cold to get service restored. But it is also part of the expectations and cost of doing business. It is not charity or something Entergy provides out of the goodness of their corporate "heart." We pay for it and it's reasonable to expect efficient response and reliable information when mishaps occur.
4 Questions are arising from grumpy customers about the wisdom of burying more power lines. About the sufficiency of right of way maintenance. About the sufficiency of regular repair crew staffing, versus counting on imports from other states with the lag time on assembling and transportation. No hurry on these discussions, but they are worth remembering. For now, let there be light.
5) On a personal note: Julie Munsell, any reason why after repeat requests the Times still can't seem to get on the list for notices of Entergy news conferences and news releases?
* FOX FUNNY BUSINESS: Huffington Post compiles a video of nine of Fox News' wildest utterances of 2012. Only nine?
* OLD SCHOOL CRIME NEWS: A bust up Huntsville way of a guy operating a moonshine still.
OK, things ARE different in Arkansas in the party politics realm.
Stephens Media profiles the new Republican leaders of the Arkansas legislature - Sen. Michael Lamoureux and Rep. Davy Carter - and features their professed willingness to work "across the aisle" with Democrats.
They are dealmakers, it's true. But any notion that they signal a moderate legislature should be put to bed before the new General Assembly convenes in January. The Democratic majority was pretty conservative to begin with, but it will seem moderate by comparison. Hard to imagine Arkansas could get more conservative than it already is on guns, abortion and discrimination against gay people, but just wait. And Republicans are coming with Voter ID laws
All of these things aren't necessarily partisan issues. The big money has already bought bipartisan support on some key issues - for example, charter schools and other so-called "education reform." The Walton money will, for example, probably take control of charter school oversight from the state Board of Education (it's doing too good a job), likely through a new, far more political appointed group attuned to Billionaire Boys Club wishes. Pending, too, is a so-called parental trigger law to allow a vote of parents to essentially take over a school they believe to be failing. Panacea? Not hardly. From The New Republic:
Plenty of evidence questions the wisdom of replacing public schools with charter schools. One study, from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that 83 percent of charter schools fared worse or no better than their public school counterparts in producing academic gains. Trigger efforts have also failed to work so far. Only two California schools have been subject to trigger petitions; one effort failed, another remains tangled in the courts. The laws have also been criticized for offering ill-defined options to parents: just because parents want their children to attend a charter over a public school, that doesn’t mean that charter schools will welcome the opportunity to teach their children, who may be several grades behind their peers.
Others are troubled by the backers of parent trigger laws. After Ben Austin, a California charter school overseer, dreamed up the original proposal, the idea was seized upon and propagated by the American Legislative Exchange Council—better known as ALEC, the model legislation giant behind the controversial “stand your ground” laws—and the Heartland Institute—notorious, of late, for comparing believers in climate change to the Unabomber. Both organizations have disseminated model parent trigger laws. (As pointed out by Center for Media and Democracy member Mary Bottari, the Heartland Institute’s bill notably allows parents to trigger a school’s transformation whether or not it’s failing.)
This money takeover of state legislatures by right-wingers is happening all over.
Unfortunately, only an abstract is available. I could wish the newly rented Arkansas legislature would get a copy and read it before rubberstamping the Walton/Stephens/Murphy/Hussman lobby's legislative agenda, but no point cluttering up their work with facts on the other side. In short:
Ravitch argues that the reform movement is driven by an exaggerated negative critique of the schools, and that it is mistakenly imposing a free-market ethos of competition on an institution that, if it is to function well, requires coöperation, sharing, and mentoring.
The "reform" movement also - by division of community resources, cream-skimming, playing on prejudice and other means - promotes segregation by class and race, depresses teacher pay, puts publicly financed schools beyond the accountability afforded by democratic oversight and creates a marked divide between winners and losers. Oh, and most of the research shows that, despite some individual examples to the contrary, charter schools generally don't produce better results than conventional public schools among similar populations. I know. Don't confuse Republican legislators with facts.
Maybe the University of Walton in Fayetteville could bring her in for a debate with its Walton-financed "reform" faculty, which, coincidentally, gins out propaganda for the Walton "reform" movement.
Liquor by the drink, Sunday sales and conventional restaurant booze permits are in the offing via various regulatory channels. The most interesting question is who'll be first in line for the first package store permits.
The Macadoodles outfit, which successfully broke the Washington County liquor cartel and which is well-known after years as the first-stop choice for many an Arkie just over the Missouri line, would be a contender, I'd guess. Having visited their huge new store on I-540 in Springdale, I'm ready to say you can do a LOT worse in Arkansas, on both price and selection.
Under existing Arkansas law, Walmart can't open a liquor store, even separate from an existing Walmart or Sam's Club. The groundbreaking case that gave them an outlet in Fayetteville limited the company to one store. But .... maybe the Walton charter school lobbyists, with ducks already in a row on that fight in the rent-to-own Republican legislature, could find a little spare time to loosen up archaic liquor laws, too. Then maybe we could get a Costco in Arkansas.
She links to a report on who put up the $10 million to pass the law. It includes $1.7 million from Alice Walton, heiress to the Walmart fortune built by her father.
It reminds me again about how cheap it is to buy Arkansas. Maybe $2 million bought an Arkansas Republican majority in this year's election.
Much, much less than that was spent by Waltons and other billionaire backers and their agents to buy majorities on critical Arkansas education committees in 2010.
The charterizing of public schools in Arkansas with complete absence of proof of the superiority of the concept and plenty of proof of the perils of lack of accountability for the functional equivalent of publicly funded private schools will come in a torrent in 2013. That's a given.
The only unanswered question is whether a few Republicans, though wholly beholden to the Billionaire Boys Club, will be able with a straight face to say they believe in accountability while stripping accountability from the charter school process by taking regulatory power from the state Board of Education.
The state Board has approved charter schools left and right, but not every single charter school. And it has begun demanding performance on promises from existing charter schools. The billionaires' lackeys and they are everywhere, from the the Walton-controlled University of Arkansas to the Walton-controlled University of Central Arkansas to the private lobbying group they established in Little Rock don't like such rigorous oversight one bit. For example: The Board denied a LISA Academy expansion in Little Rock when a Board member noted that the school after drawing a whiter and more economically privileged student body than the surrounding public school district wasn't demonstrating academic performance any better than conventional public schools.
We go to press this week before the election so I was working on a column about how some things will remain the same in Arkansas regardless of how the election turns out. Might as well share the gist of it now.
For example: Education. The Billionaire Boys Club bought significant legislative control in 2010 and the result was a loosening of the charter school law in 2011, with a floating cap that automatically increases each time a cap is hit. But that still wasn't enough for the Walton-Stephens-Murphy-Hussman combine that seeks to wreck universal public education with a crazy quilt of "choice" programs that will create some winners and a lot of losers, particularly in urban areas like Little Rock.
The Walton money is in play again this election season, primarily in behalf of a Republican majority because Republican Party dogma has always supported private school vouchers, tax money for home schoolers and more charter schools where favored economic classes can flee people not like them. But there are Democrats on board this train already, too. And the completion of the Walton agenda is in the offing.
A plan is underway to loosen still further charter school restrictions. In a Walton-perfected world, there'd be no cap on charter school establishment. Fly-by-night profiteers with no track record and scant financial backing would be allowed to freely enter the education field here with tax money. Someday, in the great by and by, if they fail, they'd be shut down. The children schooled in these failed institutions would just be collateral damage.
Sen. Michael Lamoureux, who'll lead the Senate if Republicans have a majority and who'll be part of a charter school majority vote no matter which party is in power, was quoted in the Democrat-Gazette over the weekend as saying charter-school supporters don’t believe that the current process for considering proposed charter schools is “very fair,” but he doesn’t know what “the exact solution would be.”
I asked him what was unfair about the current system. We have perhaps the most diverse, most diligent state Board of Education of my 40 years in Arkansas. Its membership includes black people, white people, a Latina activist, former legislators and a pillar of the Little Rock charter school movement. It has rigorously reviewed both charter school applications and the performance of existing charter schools. It has been generally supportive of charters (and tough on failing conventional public schools), but it has rejected some charter expansions and some new applications, always for cogently expressed reasons. What's not to like? We could wish that the Game and Fish Commission, to name one, had such a healthy representation of viewpoints and dealt so fully, openly and earnestly with competing philosophies on the field it regulates.
"I guess by unfair I mean, we are not getting the desired result."
Wow. That's an honest answer.
Republicans don't want facts. They don't want fairness. They don't want due diligence. They want "results." Meaning, they want their way. Or the way of the fatcats who bankroll them.
I asked Luke Gordy, the well-paid Walton lobbyist who oversees multiple efforts to enforce the Walton way on Arkansas public schools (including an outfit that expropriates the good name of a non-ideological school organization), for an outline of the new charter school enabling legislation. No dice. The Walton idea of transparency does not include that, apparently, except with friendly legislators.
I pressed Lamoureux on whether he thought the state Board of Education review was somehow flawed or unnecessary. He responded to my specific question that there should be a review on finances, track record and the like.
Yes, those issues should be considered.
I think proponents feel the process is not yielding desired results.
I do not know all the details.
Who needs details? It's enough to know the Waltons are unhappy with results so far.
A few odds and ends:
* A BRIDGE TO FITNESS: Skip Rutherford sent a Twitter this morning noting that the pedestrian bridge by the Clinton Library, fashioned from an abandoned railroad bridge, opened a year ago. I can testify to his mention of its popularity. I've taken to including a bridge crossing on occasional 30-minute walks from my office at Markham and Scott during the lunch hour. Lots of company on the bridge. Great views upriver and down. I spot a different familiar name each time in the list of donors inscribed on the concrete path. The walk through the library park itself, and the new trail around the wetlands area, isn't bad either. Recommended.
* UALR MOVES TO DORMS FOR FRESHMEN: I'm still awaiting fuller response from UALR, but multiple sources confirm that the campus is looking hard at, and may have made, a decision to require incoming freshmen of "traditional age" to live in campus housing. Many other state college campuses have similar rules. UALR for years had no dorms at all, because of efforts by others in the UA system to hold back its development. This change, while lifting the campus to something akin to parity with others, doesn't come without risk. Some think it could take away a recruiting advantage for UALR — living at home while attending college. Might the requirement encourage students to choose other commuting options, including Pulaski Tech or UCA? The idea arises from a comprehensive study by a consultant on recruitment
* FAREWELL FRIENDS: A note of personal privilege. The obituaries this morning noted the death of Ivy Bea Lackey, 88. No reason you should know Mrs. Lackey. But over 20 years or so, until her health began failing, she was a good and faithful phone friend. I can attest, as her obituary did, that she was devoted to the Democratic Party, her native Cave City and her grandson. You could have added Bill Clinton's name to that list. He had no more dogged defender during bruising election battles and the Whitewater drama than Ivy Bea Lackey. When the signs renaming Markham Street for the president went up, she had her photo made with me standing in front of one of the new signs. Her love of politics was well-suited to another passion, Geyer Springs Baptist Church, its political intrigues another favorite topic of conversation. She often compared notes with Flo Cato, another frequent caller and famed letter writer. I treasure associations such as these, the felicitous fallout of a career in newspapers.
Farewell, too, to another remarkable and indomitable woman, Dell Leveritt of North Little Rock, who died last week at 92. She was a school teacher with an inquisitive mind that remained acute to the end, even as other parts began giving out. She was the mother of my boss and friend, Alan Leveritt. The independence and persistence with which she lived her life were imprinted on him in starting and sustaining a small publishing company against long odds. You should hope, by the way, for a son so devoted. There will be a memorial service for her at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Park Hill Presbyterian Church.
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.
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.
More hubris. It was pretty transparent all along that St. Bernard had a lot of…
A commendable thought, plainjim, but where is "civilization" to be found?
Having grown up in remote places in the Arkansas Ozarks when there were still a…
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