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The shadow government


A Freedom of Information Act request by lawyers for the Little Rock School District disgorged information from the University of Arkansas that shed light on the fight to expand open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County.

The FOI request related to a report from the University of Arkansas Office of Education Policy intended to debunk the School District's argument that charter schools have harmed desegregation. It's simple, though the UA puffed a cloud of statistical smoke in dispute. Public schools in the county are losing white students; charter schools are gaining them, along with a disproportionate share of non-poverty students.

The UA school "reformers" have long aided those, like the Walton family (a major UA financial contributor), who favor charter schools and school vouchers and dislike teacher unions. The coziness manifests itself in many ways.

An employee of the Walton Family Foundation, Naccaman Williams, is chairman of the state Board of Education. Luke Gordy, a former board member, has been hired by several wealthy backers, including the Waltons and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, to lobby for more charter schools. The Walton/Hussman/Gordy team backs the eStem charter school in downtown Little Rock, one of those that has siphoned off white students from Little Rock public schools.

Attorney Chris Heller's FOI request turned up the fact that UA researchers had learned, but decided not to report, that charter schools had taken a disproportionate number of white students from Pulaski magnet schools. Magnets are a primary desegregation tool that the state of Arkansas had vowed to support, not harm, in the settlement of the Pulaski desegregation case. The UA's sniffy response when caught on the omission: Nobody asked.

Documents showed that the UA shared its report with the Walton Family Foundation before it released it to the public. It showed that Gordy hoped the Democrat-Gazette would make a big splash with the numbers (it did) just in time for a federal court hearing on the desegregation case.

Telling was the note Kathy Smith at the Walton Family Foundation wrote to Walter Hussman and copied to Scott Smith, who runs an education policy center underwritten by the Waltons at the University of Central Arkansas. Emphasis supplied:

"See attached a draft copy of minority percentages which we'd had Gary Ritter's office [of Education Policy at UA] working on to address Walter's question. Interesting data and in my view takes the steam out of the argument Heller makes about charters being the culprits of re-segregating. Let me know your thoughts."

Let us know if you can order up a good report from the UA on your pet project.

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