by Max Brantley
Just in time for the charter school rally to be led this morning by Walmart billionaire Jim Walton and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, among others, comes a timely news article from, where else, the Democrat-Gazette, on Arkansas's fall in ranking by a charter school advocacy group.
The group emphasizes that Arkansas has fallen to 25th in its ranking of beneficial climate for these quasi-private schools run with public tax dollars. But that's mostly because other states, under the sway of similar fatcat lobbying efforts, have gotten even charter friendlier.
Not to worry, the anti-public school group has a recipe for improving Arkansas's charter school stature that — another coincidence! — happens to be a mirror image of the Walton plan for making another big leap forward in this legislative session toward the privatization of American education. Some of the legislation has already been introduced. More to come.
The group noted that Arkansas could improve its ranking by "creating additional authorizing options, increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities, and enacting statutory guidelines for relationships between public charter schools and educational service providers."
More charter schools. Less state oversight. State tax dollars to build buildings, even if they duplicate existing buildings in many Arkansas communities. "Guidelines for educational service providers?" I'm guessing that isn't to facilitate contractual relationships with school teachers.
UPDATE: Twitter photos from the school rally show about 150 people, counting press and assorted bystanders, at the Capitol rotunda this morning. This, after robocalls, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette advertising, incessant Twitter and Facebook messaging, mail appeals and more. The Walton billions haven't fully fertilized the grassroots just yet, apparently.
UPDATE II: David Koon reports on the morning rally. Bush invoked the 1957 school crisis at Central High.
I wish the goal was achieved when those children attended their first class. unfortunately it was not. Inequality just became easily hidden and therefore overlooked, hidden in low-income neighborhoods .... We allowed this to happen because of the soft bigotry of low expectations as my brother talked about.
He said access to quality education was the "civil rights issue of our time." He talked glowingly of the KIPP charter schools in the Delta. "Schools like KIPP show what is possible and they provide depressing evidence of how millions of children have been left behind over the years because they weren't afforded the same opportunities."
He said he hopes people of Arkansas would send a message to "the masters of delay and deferral." Choose, he said. "You have a choice. You can either help the politically powerful groups or you can help the next generation of Americans." Waltons and Bushes are not the politically powerful to whom he referred, of course. Presumably he referred to teacher groups.
UPDATE III: I'm hearing that a centerpiece of the Billionaire Boys Club agenda — to strip the state Board of Education of regulatory authority over charter schools — is running into stout opposition in the House. Despite all the money and all the tub-thumping and all the campaign spending, it turns out others with interest in schools, particularly people in the ground in small school districts, know how to reach the ears of legislators, too. They'll be talking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon by the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign.