by Max Brantley
We go to press this week before the election so I was working on a column about how some things will remain the same in Arkansas regardless of how the election turns out. Might as well share the gist of it now.
For example: Education. The Billionaire Boys Club bought significant legislative control in 2010 and the result was a loosening of the charter school law in 2011, with a floating cap that automatically increases each time a cap is hit. But that still wasn't enough for the Walton-Stephens-Murphy-Hussman combine that seeks to wreck universal public education with a crazy quilt of "choice" programs that will create some winners and a lot of losers, particularly in urban areas like Little Rock.
The Walton money is in play again this election season, primarily in behalf of a Republican majority because Republican Party dogma has always supported private school vouchers, tax money for home schoolers and more charter schools where favored economic classes can flee people not like them. But there are Democrats on board this train already, too. And the completion of the Walton agenda is in the offing.
A plan is underway to loosen still further charter school restrictions. In a Walton-perfected world, there'd be no cap on charter school establishment. Fly-by-night profiteers with no track record and scant financial backing would be allowed to freely enter the education field here with tax money. Someday, in the great by and by, if they fail, they'd be shut down. The children schooled in these failed institutions would just be collateral damage.
Sen. Michael Lamoureux, who'll lead the Senate if Republicans have a majority and who'll be part of a charter school majority vote no matter which party is in power, was quoted in the Democrat-Gazette over the weekend as saying charter-school supporters don’t believe that the current process for considering proposed charter schools is “very fair,” but he doesn’t know what “the exact solution would be.”
I asked him what was unfair about the current system. We have perhaps the most diverse, most diligent state Board of Education of my 40 years in Arkansas. Its membership includes black people, white people, a Latina activist, former legislators and a pillar of the Little Rock charter school movement. It has rigorously reviewed both charter school applications and the performance of existing charter schools. It has been generally supportive of charters (and tough on failing conventional public schools), but it has rejected some charter expansions and some new applications, always for cogently expressed reasons. What's not to like? We could wish that the Game and Fish Commission, to name one, had such a healthy representation of viewpoints and dealt so fully, openly and earnestly with competing philosophies on the field it regulates.
"I guess by unfair I mean, we are not getting the desired result."
Wow. That's an honest answer.
Republicans don't want facts. They don't want fairness. They don't want due diligence. They want "results." Meaning, they want their way. Or the way of the fatcats who bankroll them.
I asked Luke Gordy, the well-paid Walton lobbyist who oversees multiple efforts to enforce the Walton way on Arkansas public schools (including an outfit that expropriates the good name of a non-ideological school organization), for an outline of the new charter school enabling legislation. No dice. The Walton idea of transparency does not include that, apparently, except with friendly legislators.
I pressed Lamoureux on whether he thought the state Board of Education review was somehow flawed or unnecessary. He responded to my specific question that there should be a review on finances, track record and the like.
Yes, those issues should be considered.
I think proponents feel the process is not yielding desired results.
I do not know all the details.
Who needs details? It's enough to know the Waltons are unhappy with results so far.