The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, which nominally exists to encourage business development in Arkansas, notified selected people last week of the creation of a "grassroots" group to attack the Little Rock School District.
The Chamber doesn't think the word is getting out sufficiently loudly enough that the state's largest school district REALLY SUCKS.
It's a lie, of course. For all its problems, the Little Rock School District produces a glittering array of scholars every year. Yes, the gap between black and white students persists — here and everywhere — though some improvement was noted in the latest testing.
The Chamber chooses not to tell this story. The new group, Speak Up for Schools: Better Schools for a Better Little Rock, prefers to describe as a "waste" all state spending on Little Rock schools. It seeks also to minimize the damage that charter schools have done to the middle-class population of the Little Rock School District, a resegregating effect that breaks the state's federal court promise to stop promoting segregation.
Ultra-wealthy Arkansans are furious that the School District has, again, turned to the federal courts for protection. Why? Because the court action could frustrate billionaires intent on turning their pet ideas about education into state policy, particularly unlimited creation of inefficient charter schools, most unproven and often poorly run.
The likes of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman, Stephens Inc. heir Jackson T. Stephens Jr., Walmart heir Jim Walton and Murphy Oil heir Claiborne Deming are accustomed to getting their way and punishing dissent. They're lobbying the legislature to remove the state cap on charter schools. They target Little Rock for charter schools for the same reason robbers target banks. That's where the money is — thousands of students with which to capture state millions to spend THEIR way. Example: The eStem charter school partially financed by Walton money in a building owned by Hussman and felicitously stocked on opening with whiter, richer and better performing students than those in the Little Rock School District. Surprise. Kids from stable families score better on standardized tests.
It's stupid that the Chamber has given industrial competitors nationwide a bullet to shoot in Arkansas's butt (its advertisement of Little Rock's terrible schools). It's also a grave insult to the thousands of students, parents and teachers who've toiled — successfully — in Little Rock public schools. The rich men don't care. Their children don't venture among the poor children and union teachers of Little Rock schools. More troubling still is the silence from the taxpayer-subsidized Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Billionaire Club's strategy will leave Little Rock with cratered public schools that beg industrial prospects to look elsewhere. Maybe the Little Rock Chamber should join the flight to Cabot, too.