by Max Brantley
Talk of charter schools reminds me:
Federal Judge Brian Miller stunned everyone late Friday when he stepped off the Pulaski school desegregation case. He said his strong feelings about schools in his hometown of Helena made it impossible to continue. He didn't make clear how that related to the Pulaski school case, except both the Helena-West Helena School District and the Pulaski County Special School District, which is a party to the case, had just been put into state receivership. Those actions meant the removal of Miller's brother from the Helena school board and the ouster of a friend as Helena superintendent.
Here's another not-so-obvious connection for Miller to school matters.
Miller is currently chairman of the board of the Southern Bancorp Capital Partners, a nonprofit associated with the Southern Bancorp rural development bank. The Capital Partners over the years has given aid to the KIPP charter school in Helena-West Helena and the public school district there, among others. Miller also served from 2000 to 2008 on the board of Southern Bancorp. It and its affiliates have provided financing or renovation help to the Helena-West Helena School District, the KIPP Delta College Preparatory Charter School in Helena-West Helena, the Lighthouse Charter School in Jacksonville and the eStem Charter School in Little Rock.
Pending at the time Miller stepped down from the Pulaski school case was a pleading from the Little Rock School District that state approval of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County had contributed to resegregation of the school district. A bank spokesman said that the board of the bank does not participate in loan decisions. The Pulaski charter school investments also were made after Miller moved from the bank board to the nonprofit board. But the close ties with an organization aggressively backing charter schools is interesting, particularly in considering his decision — based on no arguments — that the state was wasting its money in Pulaski County.
It's, at a minimum, the old Clinton story: We're a small state with many interconnections.
SPEAKING OF DESEGREGATION: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel continues to serve the corporate masters by alibiing for the state's effort to cripple Pulaski school districts with both charter schools and loss of state support. His cooked-up defense of ending money for M-to-M transfers was a masterpiece of sophistry. The money produces only small percentage differences in racial enrollments, he argued. How little is too little, for one thing? But translating the effect over entire school districts misunderstands the transfer program, which has prevented one-race enrollments in a number of individual schools. The transfers aren't choosing school districts, they are choosing individual schools. A critical difference overlooked by McDaniel's continued disingenuous work. (Why can't I shake the feeling the Walton gnomes in Fayetteville are doing McDaniel's research?)