by Max Brantley
It would appear civil rights lawyer John Walker has drafted an FOI lawsuit against the Little Rock Public Education Foundation because it is refusing to share its records with a person who's made a request to inspect them. Attorney Phil Kaplan has claimed that the Public Education Foundation, though a "vendor" through its receipt of public money, is not subject to the FOI.
I think Kaplan is wrong. We'll see. The Little Rock School District, until recently, was helping to pay the salary of the director of the Foundation. The law has always been interpreted as applying to those agencies supported "in whole or in part" by public money and, further, the law has been held to apply where the private group is "intertwined" with activities of a govenrment agency. The foundation is supervising a student assessment project that requires teachers to work with foundation employees, on top of the public subsidy. If this is not partial support and an intertwined agency, I don't know what one would be.
This is a case that shouldn't have to go to court. If the foundation has nothing to hide, it should simply open up its records. But it has been secretive from the outset, most famously when it went along with a secret scheme to start a poorly designed merit pay experiment in Little Rock without 1) disclosing the source of the money 2) without school board approval and 3) without the legally required vote of teachers covered by the district's employment contract. The foundation's leaders also have become intertwined in school board politics, not a good idea for an organization set up under the tax-exempt portion of the tax code.