by Max Brantley
The mention of charter schools in the last item reminded me:
I mentioned before that the Billionaire Boys Club bill to strip the state Board of Education of its power to approve and regulate charter schools had been introduced by Republican Rep. Mark "Bourbon and Bacon" Biviano. No one has yet offered a specific reason for creating an expensive and duplicative new piece of state bureacracy to replace a gubernatorially appointed body that has, particularly in recent years, demonstrated integrity and care in the task of reviewing charter schools.
The problem seems to be that the Board doesn't approve every single application and occasonally calls down schools that haven't lived up to their promises. Who knows what the problem is? The Billionaires don't talk to the public, only to their camp followers and rented lawmakers.
But I should elaborate on my mention earlier that the state Board of Education is not exactly a hotbed of anti-charter sentiment. A recent past chairman, Naccaman Williams, actually worked for the Walton Family Foundation, which has spent a billion and counting on schoool "reform", not counting separate Walton family political expenditures, while voting on charter applications.
Vicki Saviers of Little Rock was a founder of the eStem charter school in Little Rock, one of the most richly financed of the billionaires' projects. Joe Black of Newport works for Southern Bancorp, whose activities include support and financing of charter schools around the state. Jim Cooper of Melbourne has served on the board of one of the lobby groups, the Public School Resource Center, created by the billionaires to promote their school agenda. Saviers also has been a board member of the billionaires' lobby group, Arkansans for Education Reform, headed by richly paid lobbyist Luke Gordy, himself a former member of the state Board of Education. Board member Alice Mahony runs the El Dorado education foundation financed by Murphy Oil money, a key part of the billionaires' pro-charter coalition. What's not to like about these good people?
Finally, on the hypocrisy beat (a grueling task in the days of the new Republican majority), we have Prissy Hickerson, one of the legislative co-sponsors of the board of education-stripping legislation. She joined a group from her hometown of Texarkana a few years ago in urging state Board of Education denial of a charter school application in Texarkana. Her successful mission is believed to underlie some of the billionaires' unhappiness with the state board.
Could it be that the current nine-member group of regulators is tough, fair-minded and, the record shows, quite receptive on balance to establishment and continuation of charter schools? Could it be that the billionaires think that appointees of the Republican majority- and billionaire-controlled legislature who'd make up the new charter school commission (four of five would be legislative appointees) would be far more pliable?