The Friday night line is open. Finishing up:
* PRAYING FOR CONWAY SCHOOLS: Having had some cutesy responses to past FOI requests for the Conway School District, all now funneled first (improperly I believe) through a Texas religious organization, I expanded a request for all possible forms of communication on the subject of campus visits by church groups, apparently a longstanding practice in Conway that a church-state separation group has questioned. The request produced 200 pages of emails, texts, notes and more on the subject.
Let me say this in Conway's defense: If some of the communications are correct in practice as well as in stated policy, the visits are defensible. The rules — which apply to a number of church groups — say that visitors may only visit students on an approved list, only in the lunchroom, only when an administrative supervisor is present and, most important, "not witnessing."
K.K. Bradshaw, director of administrative services, indicated in outlining the church visitors at various middle and high schools that K-Life, an evangelical organization, in visiting the Carl Stuart Middle School, had apparently caused concerns. She reported that a school administrator there had had "a very frank discussion with K-Life about respecting boundaries because they could be asked not to return." K-Life has insisted to me it does not proselytize. The Freedom from Religion Foundation had targeted Carl Stuart as the location of impermissible religious activities, although it mentioned an unrelated church with a similar name that doesn't visit Carl Stuart, which it may have confused with K-Life.
I've said from the start that, if the school district allows lunch visitors from a broad spectrum of groups, they can't exclude churches. And if they prevent proselytizing and religious recruitment, I don't think the schools have ventured into constitutional problem areas. There's obviously a recruitment effect from any visitation of students by any type of visitor. And anyone is free to argue about the educational value of outside visitors generally, church or otherwise. But the question in controversy is religious establishment. Given the evangelical bent of several of the visiting groups, it's not unfair to fear they might take liberties.
* ARKANSAS IN ANOTHER TOP TEN (SIGH): Gallup samples political winds and finds the country split 38-36-23, conservative/moderate/liberal. I'd point out to Republicans that this means 59 percent of the people are moderate to liberal. Liberals are a whole lot more likely to agree with a moderate position than a conservative would agree wth a moderate, if you're talking about majority consensus on most hot button issues. But they'd undoubtedly respond, yeah, but what about Arkansas? And there we are, tied for 10th as the most conservative state. Bro. Rapert is working hard to take us to No. 1, currently held by Alabama. Spread 'em, ladies.
* CHARTER SCHOOL WATCH: THE BILLIONAIRES NEVER QUIT: At last count, the House Education Committee had a solid majority opposed to the Billionaire Boys Clubproposed takeover of school regulation in Arkansas. Their bill not only would take over approval and oversight of charter schools with legislatively appointed (and suitably pliant) appointees, but give that board broad power on conversions of real public schools. The Waltons/Hussmans/Stephenses/Murphys/Dillards didn't spend all that money to buy the legislature and to promote their cause to lose this signature pet issue. Multiple reports say Walton six-figure lobbyist Luke Gordy has been hotboxing Education Director Tom Kimbrell about ways to make the legislation acceptable to the Beebe administration. Given the rich guys' clout, Beebe might be willing to cut some sort of deal. School advocates say this is not a group to make a deal with. Let that rich camel's nose in the tent and couple of humps will soon follow.
* OH, NEVER MIND: I wrote earlier that the great Medicaid audit would not be released today. After slavering for early release before a roomful of Republicans primed to hear good spin earlier in the week, the august Republican co-chairs of the committee, Bryan King and Kim Hammer, now declaim in a statement that the report won't be released today because the Audit staff is still reviewing the draft and Audit believes DHS "responses deserve careful review and evaluation." Mighty nice of them. Earlier, in rush to a fast-track headline, they didn't give a rat's patoot about DHS' responses.
* ASA! DUCKS!: GOP gubernatorial candidate was asked about expanding Medicaid today. Doug Thompson of the Stephens newspapers in Northwest Arkansas reports his bob-and-weave:
"I'm going to leave that to the legislature and governor to work out. I have a lot of confidence in Michael Lamoureux and Davy Carter," the Republican Senate president and Speaker of the House, Hutchinson said. He was speaking at a meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Political Animals Club in Fayetteville.