Quote of the Week:
"I want the truth telling to start. There's no opportunity in charters we don't already have [in the Little Rock School District]. ... If we're going to have collaboration, we've missed our chance, frankly."
— Former Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus, delivering a parting shot the day before his contract expired on June 30. Kurrus was speaking to a public education stakeholder group formed to consider opportunities for collaboration between charter schools and traditional public schools in the Little Rock area. It's widely assumed Kurrus was fired by the state Education Commissioner Johnny Key because of Kurrus' opposition to charter expansions. Kurrus' replacement, Michael Poore, took over as superintendent July 1.
Walton Foundation doubles down
Speaking of charters: The Walton Family Foundation announced it will contribute $250 million to help construct facilities for charter schools in 17 cities around the U.S. (Unlike traditional schools, charters can't levy taxes to pay for new facilities.) That's on top of the $1 billion the WFF said in January that it would be spending over the next five years to help new and existing charters. Little Rock is one of those 17 cities, though the WFF's news release didn't name which local schools will receive funds.
Twice as mean
By an almost 4-to-1 margin, voters in Texarkana repealed a city nondiscrimination ordinance intended to protect LGBT people. The city Board of Directors unanimously passed the ordinance in January, which — like hundreds of similar local measures enacted around the nation — included sexual orientation and gender identity among protected classes for city employees and for those who contract with the city. But in what's become a familiar refrain, religious conservatives mobilized around the myth that the ordinance would create dangers for women and children by allowing transgender people to use public restroom facilities that correspond with their identity. Fear and misinformation carried the day, at least for now.
The long and winding road
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is running into roadblocks with 30 Crossing, the project that aims to widen Interstate 30 in downtown Little Rock from six to 10-plus lanes. Constructing such a behemoth will require an exception from the board of Metroplan, the transportation planning agency for Central Arkansas, which has capped the number of general purpose traffic lanes on any given road in the region at six. The AHTD wants a quick thumbs-up, but Metroplan's own design standards indicate that the highway department should make its case in detail, including "a thorough analysis of ... induced demand." What will be the impact downstream when traffic volume increases heavily on one stretch of freeway? What new chokepoints will be created by the $630 million project, thus requiring ever more road-building? Here's hoping the Metroplan board asks these and other tough questions from the AHTD.
Arkansas's aggregate scores on the college entrance exam were released, and the state "held steady," in the words of the Education Department. Improvement is sorely needed, however, considering the fact that Arkansas lags behind the national average on ACT performance. In English, 49 percent of high school juniors met the benchmark score (which indicates a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in a corresponding college course); 25 percent met the math benchmark. Just 14 percent of juniors met the benchmark score in all four areas of the test — English, math, reading and science.
Trump's man in Arkansas
An email circulating from Bud Cummins, the state campaign chair for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, said former state Sen. Gilbert Baker will be one of the main liaisons between the Trump campaign and the Arkansas Republican delegation to the upcoming GOP convention in Cleveland. Interesting choice. Baker is under investigation by the FBI for his apparent role in the bribery of Mike Maggio, the former circuit judge who reduced a jury's verdict against a negligent nursing home by several million dollars and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Baker facilitated the delivery of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Maggio from the owner of the nursing home in question, Michael Morton (neither Baker nor Morton has been charged with a crime). Sounds like a perfect fit for the Trump train.