by Max Brantley
The bill to double the charter school count in Arkansas -- and to allow them all to be backed inton one location -- is headed for a house vote today. The Waltons have pulled out all the stops. Wal-Mart's lobbyist, the Walton-paid Luke Gordy and a team of at least three former legislators are all working the chamber for votes. It passed the House Education Committee narrowly and then only because the committee is packed with Republicans. Some opposition is developing on the floor.
I think this bill is the Waltons' back-door effort to take over, first, the Pulaski County schools with a couple of dozen "charter" schools (and then any others where there are teachers in need of Walton punishment). There's no showing anywhere in the country that charter schools, as a whole, are any better than conventional public schools. I'd just suggest that the legislators who think this kind of thing can't happen to their school district better give it another think.
(This isn't about KIPP academies, with their extra funding, their longer hours, their committed teacher corps, their ability to root out uncommitted parents and students and special ed students. This is about a voucher program by another name, to schools with no track records, no accountability and many ways, from tracking to lack of transportation, to discourage or keep out "undesirable" types of students.)
UPDATE: This bill does more than up the number of charters. It also will effectively strip the state Board of Education of the power to vote up or down on charter applications. As it now stands, a need must be demonstrated. No uniqueness need be proven under this legislation. And applicants also need not have achieved 501c3 nonprofit status when they apply.
This bill makes it easy for any unproven would-be charter operator with some soap to sell to take public money to open up a school, whether a need is demonstrated in a community or not and whether the operator has any track record at education. This is what the Waltons would have you believe is greater accountability. Do you think they run the retail store this way?