The Walton money at work in school board races and in teacher training for Little Rock | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Walton money at work in school board races and in teacher training for Little Rock

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 8:03 AM

News from California on the continuing effort of charter school-supporting billionaires to take over public education:

Almost a half-million spent to control three school Board seats in Oakland. The groups spending the money include at least one financed in part by the Walton fortune. It's not the first school election in which the Waltons have played. Should Little Rock ever get a school board back, you can count on their money being spent here.

The spending is exempt from any limits on campaign contributions.

Gabriel Haaland, SEIU 1021's political coordinator, characterized the amounts of money being injected into Oakland's school-board races by pro-charter groups as part of the post-Citizen's United reality, a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court case that allows affluent donors, corporations, and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, so long as they don't directly communicate with the politicians they're supporting.
Walton money is at work politically across the bay in San Francisco, too.

Parents and community members in San Francisco have called recently concerned about an “astroturfing” organization that has received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation seeking to “organize” and “innovate” in the Bay. It appears that the billionaires boy club has taken to heart calls for community-based reform (at least the appearance) as an alternative to top-down reform.

However, standing in the way of the billionaires boys club are civil rights advocates from Journey for Justice, the Movement for Black Lives and the NAACP. I think it is important to understand that the the NAACP has recently stepped up it voice in the conversations about education.

The California NAACP has led the national charge for greater transparency and accountability in privately managed charter schools.
More here on that effort, which is getting some pushback.

Closer to home: I'm waiting on response to a document request to the University of Arkansas about a new Walton Family Foundation-funded program in the school "reform" department they finance at the University of Arkansas. It's been described to me as a master's degree program in "education equity" to better equip teachers in "urban" school districts — that is districts with a high percentage of minority and poor students. Superintendent Michael Poore of Little Rock confirms to me he's been meeting on the topic with Gary Ritter, who holds a Walton-endowed chair in the education reform unit; Jared Henderson, until a few months ago director of Teach for America in Arkansas; Tom Smith, a professor in the UA College of Education, and Jonathan Crossley, principal at Baseline Academy.

Ritter was reluctant to speak last week because of my past criticism of Walton involvement in actions damaging to the Little Rock School District (recently this has included financial support for a spate of new charter schools in neighborhoods with good schools and an oversupply of seats). But he said he'd be working with Walton Family Foundation resources to "hire and support high-quality teachers to work in the low-income TRADITIONAL public schools that need them the most. In my experience, when I (or WFF) engage in a project that you don’t find problematic, you don’t talk about it at all."

So there's a little talk based on what I know about what one source has said was an $11 million investment in a new master's program.

Poore, named to run the district after the state takeover by Education Commissioner Johnny Key, didn't mention any current classroom teachers joining the two meetings held so far, though Crossley was an award-winning classroom teacher before Baker Kurrus brought him into the administrative ranks. Poore said his meetings had just been general about better preparing Little Rock teachers and that he knew nothing of a specific program at UA.

I made my first request for documents from the UA on Nov. 29. As yet, none has been supplied.

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