Two days ago NYC Mayoral Candidate de Blasio (the frontrunner for Tuesday's Democratic primary) announced his support for a moratorium on 'co-locating' charter schools into buildings already occupied by neighborhood schools. If 'co-locating' sounds reasonable, well it's because the practice was given a deceptively anodyne title.
NYC co-locations are really hostile takeovers (sometime in whole, sometimes in part) of zoned neighorhood schools. Kids attending then'co-located' neighborhood schools are kicked out of their classrooms and forced into yet more crowded classrooms. Charter schools don't pay rent, often get the best facilities, and cherry pick the use of 'shared space'. They often reject students who don't fit in their managers' model of the right sort of student.
The department has asked the Panel for Educational Policy to sign off on dozens of new schools and space-sharing arrangements to begin in 2014 or beyond. But those plans could be in jeopardy regardless of the panel’s vote this year, as Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor, has said he would cancel any space planning that the department does between now and the end of the year that he deems negative for schools.
Sternberg’s level of involvement in those changes — which map closely to Walton’s priorities — over his final few weeks at the department remains unclear. A department spokeswoman said Sternberg had consulted with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board to ensure that his ties with Walton would not compromise planning that takes place now.
...More broadly, Sternberg’s portfolio at the department is directly in de Blasio’s line of fire. Sternberg oversaw opening and closing schools and was instrumental in identifying space for charter schools to expand in public school buildings. (After a state Supreme Court judge gave a light to a set of school closures in 2011, he invited colleagues at the department to celebrate at a happy hour.)
Culturally enriching field trips are in decline in public education, and museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours,” Greene said.
“I guess I fail to see what would be so proprietary in nature that the university would be so protective of that,” Mayberry said.
“But it seems to be part of a more overall approach or perhaps a lack of transparency, or maybe it’s just a perception of such,” Mayberry told [Chancellor David] Gearhart. “How can the university in your opinion address that perception that the university is not being as open and forthcoming with information as perhaps it should be with people of the state?”
“We believe it is a competitive disadvantage to us if we released that information. We are trying to keep our expenses at the Razorback Foundation and intercollegiate athletics as low as we can, and our feeling is that this is information that would hurt us in contract negotiations with other teams,” he said.
Files which, if disclosed, would give advantage to competitors or bidders; and (b)(i) records maintained by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission related to any business entity’s planning, site location, expansion, operations, or product development/marketing, unless approval for release of such records is granted by the business entity; (ii) provided, however, this exemption shall not be applicable to any records of expenditures or grants made or administered by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and otherwise disclosable under the provisions of this chapter;
America's richest family, worth more than $100 billion, has exploited a variety of legal loopholes to avoid the estate tax, according to court records and Internal Revenue Service filings obtained through public-records requests. The Waltons' example highlights how billionaires deftly bypass a tax intended to make sure that the nation's wealthiest contribute their share to government rather than perpetuate dynastic wealth, a notion of fairness voiced by supporters of the estate tax like Warren Buffett and William Gates Sr.
...Alice Walton's mother and brother poured more than $9 billion into trusts since 2003 that fund charitable projects like Crystal Bridges and are also designed to protect gifts to heirs from taxation. Another Walton pioneered a tax-avoidance maneuver that is now widely used by U.S. billionaires.
"I hate to say it, but the very rich pay very little in gift and estate tax," said Jerome Hesch, a lawyer at Berger Singerman LLP in Miami who reviewed some of the Walton family's trust filings for Bloomberg. "At the Waltons' numbers, the savings are unbelievable."
...losing just two estate tax loopholes — ones that the Waltons appear to have used — would raise more than $2 billion annually over the next decade, according to Treasury Department estimates. That doesn't count taxes lost to the type of charitable trusts the Waltons used to fund projects like the museum; the department hasn't estimated that cost.
“Ms. Walton is pleased that the matter has been completely and correctly resolved without charges being filed.”
So today comes a release from The Walmart 1%, a union-backed operation dedicated to illuminating how the Bentonville-based retail giant and its wealthy heirs are "dismantling middle class jobs, distorting our democracy, and undermining public education."
Demonstrators were on hand when Walton took some of his expensive vintage race cars — worth $16 million Walmart 1% says — to run at the Laguna Seca course in Salinas, Calif., as part of an annual week-long festival of vintage cars. Demonstrators carried an effigy of Walton and leafleted a local Walmart with the message that it was time to pay Walmart workers a living wage.
“Last year, it took Rob just a second to wreck a rare 15 million dollar vintage car, but it would take 194 years for a Walmart employee working around the clock to earn 1 million dollars,” said Raymond Bravo, a member of OUR Walmart who was recently illegally fired from his job at Walmart for speaking out and going on strike. Raymond, who participated in the demonstration, told the Monterey County Herald that while he worked at Walmart earning a poverty wage he was “living on Top Ramen and fast food.” Despite their enormous wealth, Rob Walton and Walmart rely on taxpayers to subsidize their low-road, low-wage approach to business. Rob and the Walton family, who control the world’s largest private employer, have more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined.
The Walton wealth according to a recent government report is subsidized in part by taxpayers. The report issued in June describes how on average a single Walmart store costs taxpayers nearly $1 million in various government subsidies including food and rental assistance provided to Walmart workers to supplement the company’s poverty wages.
I confess. As a vintage car fan I'd have liked more information and photos about the Walmart board chair's racers. This website says the collection includes Ferraris, Porsches and a Shelby Cobra. $20 million worth of cars to a fellow worth $26 billion is, of course, chump change. About on a mathematical par with the $2 model Ferrari Testarossa I once bought my son.
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.
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