Johnny Key's school 'reform' agenda leads to election chaos | Arkansas Blog

Johnny Key's school 'reform' agenda leads to election chaos

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THERE THEY GO AGAIN: Gov Asa Hutchinson's appointment of Johnny Key as education commissioner has produced exactly the agenda-driven leadership you would have expected — with lots of negative consequences. - TWITTER / ASA HUTCHINSON
  • TWITTER / ASA HUTCHINSON
  • THERE THEY GO AGAIN: Gov Asa Hutchinson's appointment of Johnny Key as education commissioner has produced exactly the agenda-driven leadership you would have expected — with lots of negative consequences.

Here's yet another of the ill consequences of Education Commissioner Johnny Key's agenda-driven leadership of the state Education Department. General election chaos.

Key, a former Republican senator with no training in education, was appointed to lead the Education Department by Gov. Asa Hutchinson because he'd be a reliable advocate for the school "reform" agenda set by the Walton Family Foundation. Charter schools — virtual and otherwise — are to be expanded no matter how sorry. School district lines are meaningless; "choice" is paramount. There's more, from high stakes testing to a low opinion of trained teachers.

One favorite of the "reformers" is moving school elections from separate days in September to general election dates. The theory is, nominally, greater voter participation. The theory, really, is the belief that tax increases would be less likely to pass at a general election than at elections in which only school-interested voters participate. I have no idea if the theory is accurate or not — millage proposals don't always pass in school elections, almost never in the Pulaski County Special School District.

Which brings us back to Johnny Key. He is the "school board" for the Pulaski County Special School District, currently in state receivership. It is about to become democratically governed again and Key, exercising his total authority, decreed that the first school election should be in November not September, as schools boards have an option to choose. This is agenda politics, pure and simple. And wait for the Walton money to roll in on candidates of their preference in November, if Louisiana state school board elections are any guide.

Now the unintended consequences: Election chaos. John Lyon, covering the Pulaski County Election Commission's concerns, outlines them in some detail:

* There must be a separate ballot. State law doesn't allow other issues to appear on a school election ballot.

* All polling places in a school election must be in the district — no sharing with polling places located just outside the district, even those with voters who live in the district.

* There's no mechanism for school district reimbursement of election costs when held on the same day.

* Early voting for school elections lasts only seven days, not two weeks as for a general election. If you go two weeks early, you can't vote in school races, but must make a return trip.

* Coping with all the variables will cost the county $50,000.

* NOT MENTIONED IN LYON ARTICLE, but brought to my attention by a reader: 

School elections are held in September to be in line with the calendar for creating the property tax books. For example, the Pulaski County Quorum Court has to approve the "tax book" at its November meeting — and there is a lot to do during the month of October to make that happen. Having the school election so close to the approval of the tax book could create major problems — especially if you want to get the tax bills out on time.

All this to serve the Waltons' school "reform" agenda of general election school votes, if not the public or the county election commission. Somebody should have thought this through first and at a minimum adjusted all that needed to be adjusted, but it's not the first time Key's leadership has resulted in misjudgments.

* There's the firing of a competent school superintendent, Baker Kurrus, because he raised questions about charter school expansions and their contribution to economic and racial segregation in the Little Rock School District.

* There's another executive fiat in which Key has waived the rules for consideration of a Little Rock Preparatory Academy charter school expansion though it has a failing academic record. The construction work for the expansion — on a building owned by a Walton-related entity — began in March, while the school can't be authorized sooner than May 18. Key's rule waiver already told us how favorable this expansion will be viewed, even for a charter school outperformed by 47 of 48 Little Rock District schools.

* There's the LISA and eStem charter school expansions, sold by Key's Education Department staff and the Walton-controlled members of the state Board of Education and the Waltons' local paid lobbyist as vital to rescue needy poor and minority children from the failing Little Rock School District. Numbers I've supplied have illustrated that Little Rock schools match or exceed these schools in performance across a broad spectrum of schools, particularly at the important middle school level  To add insult,  I showed that LISA, which is moving further toward the high-income neighborhood of Chenal Valley, apparently doesn't have a waiting list because it is advertising through direct mail for students. As I noted yesterday, the direct mail omitted all the heavily black and poor ZIP codes in Little Rock.

I suspect this isn't the last unpleasant consequence of Key's agenda-driven leadership at the Education Department.

PS: John Lyon notes talk of attempting to introduce some comprehensive legislation in the special session on highways to clear up the school election problems. If the Waltons have their way, it will mean the end of separate school elections. School administrators will be the last line of defense, as they were when legislation was defeated in 2015 to achieve the Walton lobbyists' aim of privatization of the entire Little Rock School District, legislation Key supported.

The highway session shouldn't be held, by the way.  Gov. Asa Hutchinson has already declared it's an opportunity to increase spending on highways without a tax increase. That means only one thing — transferring state money from other purposes to highways.  There is no free lunch. Any suggestion to the contrary is voodoo economics. It's mostly a waste of time, kicking a real highway funding solution several years down the road past Hutchinson's re-election bid.

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