Newly rigged charter school panel sets meets for Walton-powered agenda | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Newly rigged charter school panel sets meets for Walton-powered agenda

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 7:42 AM

click to enlarge HERE THEY GO AGAIN: Walton Family Foundation influence permeates every part of the charter school approval process in Arkansas.
  • HERE THEY GO AGAIN: Walton Family Foundation influence permeates every part of the charter school approval process in Arkansas.
The newly reconstituted state charter school advisory panel meets next week and it's a safe bet that new charter schools will meet a receptive audience.

As Benji Hardy noted earlier, a new state law that placed outsiders on the committee that reviews charter school applications for recommendations to the state Board of Education has produced a panel stacked with people with histories of support for charter schools.

To her credit, Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette detailed the interlocking interests of the charter school lobby with its board members. To our credit, we've noted these facts repeatedly over the past years and months.

Here's how it goes:

* The Arkansas Public School Resource Center, an advocate for charter schools supported by the pro-charter, multi-billion-dollar Walton Family Foundation, provided recommendations for people to appoint to the review panel.

* The outside members all have histories as charter school supporters.

* One new member Naccaman Williams, is an EMPLOYEE, of the Walton Family Foundation.

* Applications this week include at least three charter school applications for Little Rock supported by the Walton Family Foundation. It is providing the building for one and has already proclaimed its need by saying the nearby real public schools (two of which my kids attended) are inadequate.

* Scott Smith, who leads the APSRC with salary supported by the Waltons, proclaims there's no conflict of interest in Naccaman Williams, also paid by the Waltons, serving on the charter review panel. He told the D-G that if nobody saw a conflict in Naccaman Williams when he was a member of the state Board of Education and approving charter schools, why should it be a conflict now. Some DID see it as a conflict, however. Here's one person who saw a conflict of interest in this previously.

* Employees from the Department on the board also have charter-friendly backgrounds and they work at the direction of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who advocated charter schools as a state senator and carried legislation for the Waltons.

* If by some cosmic joke the charter school advisory panel should look unkindly on a charter school application, the state Board of Education, now solidly in control of pro-charter members thanks to appointees friendly to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's pro-charter outlook, the matter can still be fixed. See the state Board's recent reversal of the charter advisory panel recommendation to revoke the charter of an academically and financially troubled Little Rock charter school.

The charter panel meets Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. Three of the charter school proposals carry the explicit endorsement of Kathy Smith of the Walton Family Foundation or the foundation's direct investment — Einstein Charter, Friendship Aspire and the Scholar Made Achievement Place (this is the one to save the inner city neighborhood served by the supposedly failing schools my kids attended.)

I like their chances for a good vote.

You can find details on all applications by going to the page with agendas for each of this week's meetings. Open each day to see which schools are scheduled for discussion and read their full applications. (PS: I haven't yet found one proposing to build character by encouraging sixth graders to don football helmets.)

CORRECTION: I originally wrote the meetings were to be this week. They are next week, Aug. 15-17.

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