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.
The Benton County clerk says backers of the Walton-funded drive to put a retail alcohol sales proposal on the county election ballot in November submitted enough signatures to qualify (City Wire, via Talk Business).
But now a certification process is necessary to see if enough of those signatures — about 41,000 — are those of registered voters.
CORRECTION: There was some confusion in the report I linked. I double-checked with County Clerk Tena O'Brien. As of today, she said 42,444 had been verified as registered voters eligible to sign to put the measure on the ballot. This was out of 55,460 signatures processed. So, while opponents have a 10-day period to appeal the clerk's certification, it appears to be set for the ballot.
Money talks. The Walton grandsons who've contributed $360,000 so far to this drive did a better job of hiring a professional canvasser than some others with statewide petitions did. The success rate was 76 percent on petitions checked through this morning.
The Sam Walton grandsons-backed drive to allow retail alcohol sales in Benton County is making progress.
The ad hoc group, Keep Dollars in Benton County, has announced its paid canvassing campaign has gathered 56,000 signatures on petitions to put the proposal on the ballot. Under the law, they needed 38 percent of registered voters, or 41,171. The county clerk now must certify that sufficient registered voters signed up.
Steuart and Tom Walton, sons of Jim Walton, have so far reported spending $330,000 on the effort. E-Z Mart and Kum and Go have also contributed $20,000 each. Casey General Store has kicked in $10,000.
Benton County is one of the dampest dry counties in Arkansas, with dozens of restaurants selling drinks under private club permits. The Walton brothers grew up there and still spend time in Bentonville, but Steuart Walton lives in London and Tom Walton in Austin, Texas. A number of local business people are on the committee working for alcohol sales.
The University of Arkansas will give Alice Walton an honorary Doctor of Arts and Humane Letters during spring commencement, the school announced today.
Said Chancellor G. David Gearhart in statement:
“There are very few individuals who have the ability to make truly transformational changes in people’s lives or in the way institutions operate; far fewer individuals act on that ability. Alice Walton is a very special individual. We want to honor what she has done already for Northwest Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, and of course, this university.”
Walton received her bachelors degree from Trinity University in San Antonio.
Salon reports on an economist's analysis of the wealth of the Walton family. It puts it terms you can understand. "Insane wealth," is how Salon put it.
In short, six Waltons, with almost $70 billion in assets according to a 2007 Forbes analysis, have assets equal to ALL the assets of the bottom 30 percent of the U.S. population, or about 100 million people.
Keep shopping Walmart and maybe the big six can do even better.
Propaganda party touted here by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has served for some time as an enabler of messaging about the alleged waste of money that is the Little Rock School District.
It's billed as a "town hall meeting" on school choice — 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Philander Smith College. They'll screen the charter school propaganda film — "Waiting for Superman" — and have a panel discussion noticeably lacking in opposing points of view on the subject. Participants include: The Walton-financed eStem charter school head; a conservative Heritage Foundation employee who supports vouchers and charters; a member of the Walton-financed faculty at the School for Education Reform in Fayetteville; a leader of one of the Walton-backed KIPP charter schools.
Diane Ravitch, who speaks inconvenient truths to the Billionaire Boys Club about the general lack of results of choice programs? No way. Little Rock School District attorney Chris Heller, who's written a masterful brief (here and also here) on the way the state of Arkansas has failed to uphold its end of the desegregation agreement by poor review of open charter school applications in Pulaski County? Somebody from the local school districts, say even an honest broker like Little Rock Board President Melanie Fox, who could present some balance to the throw-down-on-public-schools movement while readily acknowledging shortcomings? Don't hold your breath.
Perhaps the chamber would invest some of its Little Rock tax dollars in printing copies of Ravitch's "The Myth of Charter Schools" for distribution at the session for the missing counterpoint.
Other sponsors include Arkansans for Education Reform, the Walton-financed lobby for charter schools; the Participant Foundation, a Beverly Hills nonprofit pushing distribution of this film to achieve policy aims, and Philander Smith College. Free copies of "Waiting for Superman" will be distributed. Maybe they could print this Washington Post op-ed taking down "Superman" point by point as a study supplement.
To repeat myself: The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce is free and welcome to oppose universal health care, workers rights, workers compensation, environmental protection and other progressive policies. It is free to tear down the public school system in favor of a balkanized system rife with haves and have nots. It is free to trash a system that my children and tens of thousands of others attended to their benefit. But I still hate that they do it with my tax dollars.
The Walton Family Foundation announced today that it had given an additional $403.29 million in 2010 to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville for acquisitions, construction costs and other expenses. This is on top of $800 million announced earlier in 2010 grants for an endowment for the museum, founded by Alice Walton. She's the daughter of Sam Walton, whose Walmart fortune created the foundation.
There's more where that came from. Amounts given in 2010 don't include the
$661 $411 million given earlier by the Walton Family Foundation and Helen (Mrs. Sam) Walton. A number of other significant gifts have been made, including the recent announcement of $10 million from the Willard and Pat Walker Foundation to pay expenses of school visits to the museum. Walmart gave $20 million for free admission for all over five years. (Not restricted to children as I originally wrote.)
The museum is to open Nov. 11.
A report from Wisconsin on the state of affairs in that Tea Party Republican-controlled state:
The Republican governor and legislator are cutting spending on public schools by $800 million, but increasing the amount sent to private schools by $17 million.
And, for that, these private schools can thank Alice Walton and her family.
Walton, the multi-billionaire heiress to father Sam Walton's Walmart empire, was the largest individual contributor to successful state legislative candidates in the 2009-10 election cycle that brought Republicans to power in Wisconsin, according to data from MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the relationship between money and politics.
Walton gave a total of $16,100 to these candidates, according to data. In fact, six of the top 15 individual contributors to last fall's successful state legislative candidates were Walton family members, including Alice's brother and sister-in-law Jim and Lynne Walton, sister-in-law Christy Walton, and niece Carrie Penner and her husband, Greg Penner.
Collectively, they gave at least $103,450 to Wisconsin candidates since mid-2008, state records show.
This is only the tip of the Walton iceberg, however. Walton money drives a lobby group working for vouchers and charter schools in Wisconsin. It also contributes millions to a "vast and interconnected array" of organizations working on the same goals. The Walton Family Foundation has devoted $157 million to pushing "school choice" — which generally means anything but conventional public schools, particularly those represented by teacher unions.
Wisconsin is a key battleground because it has the most advanced voucher programs. But it's only Arkansas written large. You can buy the Arkansas legislature for much less, as the Walton-financed lobby proved in the last session with its successful advocacy of a charter school expansion bill. A paltry few thousand got the job done in the Arkansas House and Senate. The Waltons, of course, purchased the University of Arkansas some years ago for this effort and, in addition to supporting their work in Arkansas, the Walton-financed "school reform" arm is also helping the cause in Wisconsin.
The Walton Family Foundation also gave at least $600,000 last year to the University of Arkansas' School Choice Demonstration Project, which is conducting a multi-year assessment of Milwaukee's school choice program.
In March the Arkansas project released a report of Milwaukee's parental choice program that others have criticized as overly rosy. But the report found there was no significant difference in the performance of select choice students and similar Milwaukee public school students in the 2009-10 school year. That finding was affirmed by a report released in August by Wisconsin's nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.
I would say, watch out, this could happen to YOU. But it already has. One example: A Walton employee, Naccaman Williams, recently cycled off the state Board of Education to be replaced by a charter school advocate, Joe Black, whose salary is paid by a grant from the Walton Foundation.
ALSO: Just last week, the misleadingly named Arkansas Public School Resource Center and the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (both Walton-financed tools to divert students and resources away from the Little Rock School District) weighed in against the Little Rock District's fight for the state to stop promoting segregation with its poor supervision of the establishment of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. (ASIDE TO LUKE GORDY'S SNEERING REMARK IN NEWS RELEASE: Charters will compete the same way public schools do when they are required to keep all students they receive no matter how poorly they perform or how resistant they and parents are to meeting charter school rules. Get back to me when a charter operation takes over a tough LR school and manages the students it's given, something charter operators all over the country have refused to do — for obvious reasons.)
Reporting in Texas says Walmart heiress Alice Walton is a force behind legislation awaiting the governor's signature to ban noisy airboats on scenic stretches of the Brazos River. Walton has given $120,000 to the senator who sponsored the bill. She's given almost a quarter of a million to the governor. She's a landowner in the area affected.
“As with all legislation that makes it to his desk, the governor will thoughtfully review all bills in their final form and make a decision,” said Lucy Nashed, Deputy Press Secretary for the governor.
“I’m thinking that he’s done us wrong if he signs that bill,” [airboat user Donald] Shirley said, “He’s sold out the poor people, and the rich lady’s bought us out.”
that should have been "compiled by Stephen S..." using sweetie's strange, awkward lap top...it's too…
THIS DATE IN ARKANSAS HISTORY --compiled boy Stephen Smith 7-Dec 1891 Federal Judge Isaac Parker…
John Prine wrote a song called "Bruised Orange", in which John tells of the morning…
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