Quote of the Week:
"Please look at whose lives you are putting in jeopardy when you refuse to acknowledge the students in Arkansas schools whose safety is in danger daily."
— Rev. Gwen Fry, an Episcopal priest and president of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition, in a letter to Gov. Hutchinson regarding his stance on the issue of gender identity and public restroom usage. Last Friday, Hutchinson sharply criticized the Obama administration's new guidelines stating public schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Mad as hell
The state Board of Education got an earful last week from those upset with the Education Department's handling of the Little Rock School District, which it has controlled since January 2015. The firing of LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus — almost certainly due to Kurrus' vocal opposition to charter school expansions — continues to fuel outcry in the city. State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) demanded to know why the department keeps giving charters permission to expand when their performance often lags those of LRSD schools, at least according to the state's own measures. "Why is it that Little Rock keeps getting beaten down, and this other parallel school system keeps getting exception after exception?" Elliott asked. Kurrus himself delivered his monthly report to the state board wearing a sticker saying "Keep the public in public schools."
For what it's worth, the heat may have slowed one small charter expansion: Little Rock Preparatory Academy, a school serving almost entirely low-income and minority students, had sought to move to a new campus and increase its enrollment to 120 students. Education Commissioner Johnny Key had fast-tracked LR Prep's request previously. But at the state board meeting last week, Dianne Zook, a charter-sympathetic board member, announced LR Prep was withdrawing its request for expansion (though it's still asking to move to the new location).
Suing the attorney general
After multiple attempts to gain approval for a proposed constitutional amendment to tighten state ethics law have been rejected by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Little Rock lawyer David Couch is now suing the AG herself. Couch says Rutledge's refusal to proposal an alternate ballot title for his proposal — which he wants to put before voters this November — is against the law. He's asking for an expedited hearing from the Arkansas Supreme Court on his suit, given the tight timelines involved: After a proposed amendment is approved by the AG, organizers still must collect almost 85,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 8 to qualify for the November ballot.
Another UA campus?
In recent years, Pulaski Tech has struggled to cope with declining enrollment and an accompanying loss of revenue as its student population has dropped from around 12,000 students in 2011 to under 8,000 in 2015. That's why the two-year school's board of trustees voted unanimously last week to join the University of Arkansas system. The merger still requires the approval of the UA System's board.
Consider the strange case of Guillermo Espinoza, who in 2013 was stopped by state police in Hot Spring County. The cops found and seized $19,894 in a computer bag in his vehicle, but no drugs or other contraband were discovered and prosecutors never charged Espinoza with a crime. Prosecutors initially filed a complaint to forfeit the cash, but later decided to drop the matter. Nonetheless, a trial judge rejected the state's motion to dismiss and ordered the civil forfeiture anyway in September 2014.
Espinoza fought back — but, incredibly, he lost again last week at the state Court of Appeals. Why? The appellate court said the rules of civil procedure allow only 10 days after a judgment to file a motion challenging it. Espinoza's motion was "untimely," the Court of Appeals said, and so dismissed his appeal. That means his $20K remains in state hands.
Keep on surviving
Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign (remember that old thing?) has evidently agreed to a settlement of a copyright infringement suit for playing "Eye of the Tiger" at a 2015 campaign event featuring Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who became a symbol of resistance to marriage equality last year. Huckabee was sued by Frankie Sullivan, a founding member of the band Survivor, which recorded the hit theme from "Rocky III." Federal court records don't state the terms of the settlement.