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Smart Talk, Oct. 25

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Big schools gain, little schools lose

In a number of states, including Arkansas, federal aid for low-income students has been reallocated from small districts to large districts as a result of a change in the federal distribution formula, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, which advocates for small rural schools.

The trust said that a factor in the formula called “number weighting” resulted in large school districts gaining funds at the expense of smaller districts.

“The pattern of shifting resources from poorer and more rural regions to more prosperous areas and high-growth regions is unmistakable,” an article in the September issue of the newsletter Rural Policy Matters said. “In Arkansas, for example, only seven districts gain from number weighting. Three are in the Little Rock area and the other four are in the sprawling growth corridor in Northwest Arkansas where Wal-Mart headquarters has spawned an economic boom. All of the districts in Arkansas' Delta and Ozarks regions, where poverty rates are very high, lose funds to number weighting.”

The newsletter said its data came from the Congressional Research Service, a bipartisan arm of Congress whose reports usually aren't available to the general public. Officials of the Arkansas Education Department said they were unable to determine whether the newsletter's claim was accurate.

Songs from Death Row

Damien Echols, sentenced to die in the deaths of three West Memphis children in the controversial case known for the three defendants as the West Memphis Three, has written lyrics for songs on a CD to be released at the end of this month.

Michale Graves, formerly of the Misfits, collaborated with Echols on “Illusions,” to be released by SOS Records. Graves' music and vocals combine with Echols' lyrics, according to a news release, to “create a haunting, introspective work partially inspired by the West Memphis Three's experiences with the justice system. The album can be ordered on Amazon. The website also has details on the case.

Sample lyrics:

“The ghosts inside my head keep singing

Those same old worn out songs

Reminding me of places where the haunting never stops.”

The return of Tony Alamo

Evangelist and anti-Catholic cult leader Tony Alamo (born Bernie Hoffman) is making headlines again for his unorthodox churches in Arkansas and other locations. Alamo made headlines from the 1970s through a 1991 raid of his ministry based in Alma. Some of the headlines concerned the preserved body of his wife Susan, who died in 1982 and who Alamo believed would be resurrected. He's since been to prison on tax charges, but his ministry is going again.

Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, writes extensively about Alamo's past and present in its current issue. A large part of the story focuses on his guarded compound in Fouke, a small town near Texarkana, and community unhappiness about the operation. There's a suspicion that his followers have taken control of the Fouke Council. And Alamo has drawn attention for his radio pronouncements in support of polygamy and “marriage” of children as young as 10. His group is plastering Fouke cars with his anti-Catholic leaflets, a familiar sight around Arkansas during his heyday in Alma. His critics have urged a criminal investigation of Alamo, now 72. You can find the story at

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