What is it about merit pay that its backers are so ashamed of? It was put in place secretly with a hidden donor (later revealed as Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman) in Little Rock and then expanded secretly. Now they're using a secret backer to pony up $2 million for a matching grant for federal money to put merit pay in Rogers schools. Taxpayer-paid school officials and publicly elected school officials in Rogers so far are going along with this secrecy. Who really owns that school district anyway? Any thought that it might be local voters can now be safely put to rest.
No doubt it's Walton money at work here. They are pushing merit pay, charter schools and vouchers all over America, despite a near complete absence of proof that these ideas have proven value, in part because they see them as a way to bust teacher unions by throwing some money out for the teachers to scrap over. Once the unions are gone, they'll pay based on test scores. Teachers of kids from good families will prosper. Over the long haul, teachers of kids delivered to school with overwhelming learning deficits won't do so hot. In sum, teacher pay will fall over time and lessen the tax burden on the Waltons. Do you really think they believe teachers should be paid any better than they pay their own employees, that they value them any more?
But back to secrecy. Somebody should immediately file an FOI request for all documents in school district possession pertaining to this matching grant -- e-mails, memos, letters, etc. It should ask for a copy of the check issued to pay this matching grant. These folks have bought our major university, they're buying our school district, they have a team of lobbyists working to buy the legislature (I know there's a difference, technically, between the Walton Foundation and Wal-Mart, but it's only a technicality, the same folks control both). At a minimum, it doesn't seem much to ask them to do the purchase of a public agency in public.
In Northwest Arkansas, the dominant papers are owned by tycoons friendly to the anti-teacher-union cause -- Hussman and Warren Stephens. Will the newspapers fight the good fight for the public's right to know?