School reformers want democracy, just not for charter schools | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, September 21, 2013

School reformers want democracy, just not for charter schools

Posted By on Sat, Sep 21, 2013 at 7:32 AM

click to enlarge DEMOCRACY? There's none in governance of eStem Charter school, which operates in a building  once rented and then purchased from Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman. Note correction to original post that building was rented.
  • DEMOCRACY? There's none in governance of eStem Charter school, which operates in a building once rented and then purchased from Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman. Note correction to original post that building was rented.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page today lamented again the low turnout in school board elections. This fits hand-in-glove with the campaign by Gary Newton, a Walton-paid head of at least two pro-charter school lobby groups, to move school elections to the regular general election date. Then, more people will vote to defeat school tax increases and support Billionaire Boys Club candidates.UPDATE: Newton got High Profiled by the DOG Sunday.

Forget the pro-con on timing of school elections. The point here is hypocrisy. Wrote the DOG:

Most school boards in the state-and those who manipulate them-prefer having their elections when most of the rest of us aren’t paying attention. That way, they don’t have to deal with an overly enthusiastic public messing around with delicate matters like voting and the like. That should be left to a select few, i.e., themselves. Can’t have the public being overly involved in the public’s business. That would come dangerously close to democracy.

This from the same newspaper and same lobby groups that are trying to establish dozens of charter schools — each an independent school district operated with public money. The Billionaire Boys Club particularly thirsts to get these quasi-private schools established in Pulaski County, the better to cripple the Little Rock School District and its teachers union.

Public involved in a charter school? Good luck with that. Elections? Hah.

Charter schools have no elected school boards and precious little outside oversight except periodic reviews by the state Board of Education (its power recently diminished by the legislature at the behest of Walton lobbyists). They are often operated by profit-making private corporations, whose corporate workings are shielded from public inspection. They are, at a minimum, tightly controlled by their founders.  I can tell you from experience that many are grudging about providing the sort of transparency for their operation and records required of publicly financed entities, though the state provides the bulk of their money. I call them quasi-private because that's how they operate. They answer to a handful of patrons, not voters. People like the Waltons, D-G Publisher Walter Hussman and various Stephens and Murphy heirs call the shots at many of them.

The D-G and Gary Newton would be more credible when they invoke the "public's business" and "democracy" if they also called for a democratic process for charter school governance. Don't hold your breath. The billionaires hate messy general public involvement in school operation. They know best.

PS — A critic remarked that no school board is required because, hey, the charter school district collects o property taxes. The U.S. long ago decided property ownership wasn't a requirement of democratic participation. But, furthermore, the charter schools get a break wherever they locate because the state school formula is figured based on a base 25-mill local property tax contribution to the state financial support rate. Where there is zero contribution — as is the case at a charter school — state taxpayers pick up the whole load. If democracy is good for one, it's good for all. Let's vote on charter school oversight.

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