Walton money — and that of other wealthy conservative tycoons — has bankrolled a number of organizations working to expand charter schools and other school "choice" programs in Arkansas. One of the newest is A+ Arkansas, which is holding meetings around the state promoting school choice.
The spokesman is Laurie Lee, former wife of Democrat-Gazette columnist Mike Masterson. She achieved public notice first years ago by working to remove books with sexual content from Fayetteville public school libraries. She's worked since in a variety of political efforts, including for the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and lately for a political consulting firm headed by a former director of the Arkansas Republican Party.
Lee's recent messaging has included repetition of the idea that Arkansas is doing poorly in public education. She has taken aim squarely at Gov. Mike Beebe's advertising for the Democratic Party and its candidates that touts an Education Week evaluation placing Arkansas No. 5 in the country in a ranking based on six education categories, from policy to performance. (Her group claims to be nonpartisan. Any attack on a Democratic talking point during the election season is purely coincidental, onlookers are supposed to believe, even if the Republican Party is committed to the Walton/Murphy/Stephens/Hussman "education reform" agenda.)
Lee wrote in a recent e-mail:
"Some politicians don't want you to know that Arkansas' schools are in crisis. They are using this report to claim that Arkansas' schools rank 5th in the country — but 5th in what?
"They don't want you to know that Arkansas received a "D" in the most important category — K-12 Achievement. We are ranked 33rd in the nation."
Math and reading comprehension apparently aren't among this "education reform" group's strong suits. Lee linked to the Education Week study. It clearly listed the categories on which the ranking was based, including the one on K-12 achievement. It also notes that the contributing categories were ranked equally, with none considered "most important." It's called averaging. (A 33rd student achievement based on testing, a fact readily acknowledged by the governor, is a number of notches higher than Arkansas's customary place down near the bottom among the states.)
Said a defender of the governor's efforts: "Ironic that an e-mail decrying our advances in education chooses to ignore basic mathematics."
It's not the first or last time "reformers" will ignore numbers on school performance.