Archives for category: Arkansas

On November 26, the New York Times published an article that had this headline: ‘Minority Voters Chafe As Democratic Candidates Abandon Charter Schools.’

The point of the article was that many black and Latino families are very disappointed that all the Democratic candidates have turned their backs on charter schools, excepting Cory Booker, currently polling around 1-2%. The article was especially critical of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have, as the article put it, “vowed to curb charter school growth.”

The article implied that the shift was due to the candidates’ pursuit of the support of the teachers’ unions, and charter schools are mostly non-union. Thus, if you want the union vote, you oppose non-union charters. (In my experience, neither the AFT nor the NEA is anti-charter, since they seek to organize charters to join their unions and have had some modest success; still, about 90% of charters are non-union.)

The article was prompted by an organized disruption of a speech in Atlanta by Elizabeth Warren, who was talking about a washerwomen’s strike in Atlanta in 1881, led by black women. The disruption was led by Howard Fuller, who, as the article notes, has received many millions from rightwing foundations, not only the Waltons but the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, to sell vouchers and charters to black families.

Not until paragraph 25 does the article mention that the national NAACP, the nation’s largest organization representing black families, called for a charter moratorium in 2016. That fact alone should raise the question of how representative the protestors are.

I wrote this post about the article. The gist of my complaint was that the Times’ article gave the impression that black and Latino families are clamoring for more charters, when in reality there are many cities in which black and Hispanic families are protesting the destruction of their public schools and the loss of democratic control of their schools.

I questioned why the article relied on a five-year-old press release from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as evidence for its claim that the “wait list” for charter schools was in the “hundreds of thousands.” Actually, the 2014 press release from the charter advocacy group said the “wait list” topped one million students. My comment was that “wait lists” have never been audited or verified and that a claim by a lobbying group is not evidence.

I added to my post a commentary by Robert Kuttner, the editor of the American Prospect,  who was also critical of the article.

Both Kuttner and I heard from a reporter from the New York Times. In the response posted below, he acknowledges he made an error in citing poll data in the article, without reading the underlying poll.

I heard from one of the writers of the Times article. She said my post had many inaccuracies. I invited her to write a response and promised I would post it in full. I pleaded with her to identify any inaccuracies in my post and said I would issue a correction. She did not send a response that I could post nor a list of my “inaccuracies.”

The Times posted an article last July about the growing backlash against charter schools. But I do not think the Times has exhausted the question of why the charter “movement” is in decline.  It would surely be interesting if the Times wrote a story about why the NAACP took a strong stand against charter expansion, despite the funding behind charters. Or why Black Lives Matter opposes privatization and supports democratic control of schools. Or why black families in Little Rock, Chicago, Houston, and other cities are fighting charter expansion. None of those families are funded by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Charles Koch, or Michael Bloomberg, so they don’t organize buses to take hundreds or thousands of people to demonstrations.

The Times should take note of the fact that white Southern Republicans have made the charter issue their own, and they are using it to recreate segregated schools. Indeed, the Republican party has made charter schools and vouchers the centerpiece of their education agenda, and Democrats in most state legislatures have resisted that agenda and support public schools. There is also the fact that DeVos and Trump are pushing charters and school choice even as they dismantle civil rights protections.

I wish the Times had noticed a court decision in Mississippi a few months ago that upheld the right of the state to take tax money away from the predominantly black public schools of Jackson, Mississippi (which are 96-97% black), and give it to charter schools authorized by the state, not the district. They might note that the sole black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Justice Leslie King, dissented from that decision. The district, under black leadership, fought that decision and lost. The black parents of Jackson, Mississippi, are fighting for adequate funding of their public schools, while the white Republicans in state government are imposing charter schools.

In Justice Leslie King’s dissenting opinion, which Justice James Kitchens joined, he wrote “This Court should not be a rubber stamp for Legislative policies it agrees with when those policies are unconstitutional.”

Public school districts in Mississippi receive local funding from ad valorem tax receipts. When a student enrolls in a charter school, which is a free public school, money that would have gone to the district follows the student to the charter school instead.

My view is that we need a great public school in every neighborhood, with experienced teachers, a full curriculum, a vibrant arts program, a nurse, and all the resources they need for the students they enroll. I think that charter schools should be authorized by districts to meet their needs and supervised by district officials to be sure that there is full transparency and accountability for the academic program, the discipline policies, and the finances. Charter schools should complement public schools, not compete with them or supplant them.

Here is Robert Kuttner’s second commentary on the article:

americanprospect

 

DECEMBER 2, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

Charter Schools and the Times: a Correction and Further Reflections. I made an error in my On Tap post last week on the New York Times feature piece on black public opinion and charter schools.

My post criticized the Times for publishing a page-one story with an exaggerated headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.”

The Times piece cited a poll showing black support for charter schools at 47 percent. My mistake was to infer from this figure that black support and opposition were about equally divided. As one of the story’s authors pointed out in an email, the actual poll showed support at 47 percent, opposition at 29 percent, and no opinion or similar for the rest.

That 29 percent opposed figure was not mentioned in the Times piece. Nonetheless, I should have pursued the underlying poll and reported it, and not just made assumptions. I regret the error.

That said, polling results vary widely depending on the wording and framing of the question, the sponsor of the poll, and the context. For instance, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, in a state that has more charters than any other, reverses the finding of the Education Next poll cited by the Times. In California, blacks, with just 36 percent support, were far less likely to support charters than whites.

One of the two polls that the Times linked to used the phrase “public charter schools.” Most charter schools are public only in their taxpayer funding; their actual accountability to public systems varies widely. Many are for-profit, or nominally nonprofit but managed by for-profit management companies.

Another poll, which my post cited, by Peter Hart Associates (for the American Federation of Teachers), finds that black parents are strongly opposed to the idea of reducing funds for public schools and redirecting them to charters, which is often the practical impact of increased spending on charters. As this study shows, the practical effect of charters, in a climate of fiscal scarcity, is often precisely to divert funds from public schools.

I owe our readers a much deeper look at the charter school controversy, as well as error-free reading of polls. Both will be forthcoming. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

Robert Kuttners new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

Follow Robert Kuttner on Twitter

LilSis (also known as the Public Accountability Project) pays careful attention to the networks and money behind nefarious efforts to destroy the public sector.

In this report, LilSis describes the corporate backers of school privatization against whom Little Rock teachers went on strike. The money behind this network of interlinking organizations and individuals is the Walton family, whose wealth clocked in at $163 Billion (that’s Billion with a B) in 2018.

LilSis writes:

A major backer of the anti-union, pro-charter agenda in Arkansas is the Walton family, whose foundation is a huge funder of the school privatization infrastructure that exists across the state. In addition to the Waltons, corporate elites from Murphy Oil, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Democrat Gazetteand others are backers of the school privatization efforts. These corporate interests are close to Governor Hutchinson, who supports their agenda, and they have close ties to the state Board of Education. In addition, they are also interlocked with a host of lobbyists and academics that push their agenda…

The Waltons are major advocate of charter schools nationally, and they carry out their school privatization agenda through their Walton Family Foundation, which showers hundreds of millions on pro-charter groups and schools. The foundation claims it has invested a whopping $407 million into pushing charter schools since 1997.According to a recent report put out by the Arkansas Education Association, the Waltons pump millions into propping up the state’s school privatization infrastructure – or what the report calls the “Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire.” 

It’s not just that the Waltons give big money to a few groups – it’s also that these groups then distribute that money to other organizations, lobbyists, consultants, and academics, creating a vast network of billionaire-funded activity to attack unionized teachers and push charter schools. 

For example, the Walton family Foundation gave $350,000 to the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (AERF) in 2017 – around 80% of all the contributions the organization took in that year. 

The AERF board includes other powerful funders and advocates of school privatization in the state, such as Claiborne Deming, the former CEO of Murphy Oil, a big backer of charter schools in Arkansas; William Dillard III, part of the Dilliard family that owns the Dilliard’s department stores; and Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s flagship newspaper. Jim Walton is also on the board.

In addition to the $350,000 that the Walton donated to the AERF in 2017, Deming gave $60,000 and Dilliard III gave $10,000, while the National Christian Foundation gave $15,000, according the the group’s 2017 990 form.

AERF has in turn used the money it receives from the Walton billionaire fortune and other Arkansas elites to fund other school privatization efforts. For example, it gave $115,000 to Arkansas Learns, which describesitself as “the Voice of Business for excellent education options – including industry-relevant career pathways…” The CEO of Arkansas Learns, Gary Newton, is also the Executive Director of the AERF (for which he earned $189,639 in compensation in 2017). 

In turn, Arkansas Learns has the same board members as AERF, and Randy Zook, the CEO of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, whose wife Dianne Zook is on the state Board of Education that decided to end recognition of the Little Rock teachers’ union, is also a board member. Dianne Zook is also the aunt of Gary Newton.

What a cozy and mutually beneficial arrangement: The Waltons have a lot of money to hand out to achieve their goal of privatizing public schools and breaking unions, and the recipients take the money and carry out the Waltons’ wishes.

Any time you see a group called “XXXXXXX for Education Reform,” you can be sure it is committed to charter schools, union-busting, and privatization, and the odds are high that there is Walton money behind it.

The Waltons have claimed credit for subsidizing one of every four charter schools in the nation.

LilSis creates wonderful graphical depictions of networks.

Here is the LilSis graphic of the Little Rock school privatization network. 

If you want to understand what is happening in the Little Rock school District today, read Eric Blanc’s article. 

Eric Blanc has covered every one of the teachers’ strikes since the West Virginia strike in the spring of 2018. Now he is in Little Rock, where he interviewed teachers who went on strike yesterday to protest the State Board of Education’s heavy-handed control of the district and its decision to strip school employees of collective bargaining rights.

Teachers are outraged that the State Board of Education, which took control of the district in 2015, utterly failed to improve student outcomes, yet refuses to relinquish control to a democratically elected board. Teachers believe that the state wants to resegregate the district.

Blanc writes:

Little Rock teachers today are not demanding raises for themselves, but an end to the state’s push to resegregate schools, its takeover of their district, its decertification of their union, and its disrespect for school support staff. As second grade teacher Jenni White explains, “this is literally about standing up for our kids and not dividing our community…

The immediate roots of this week’s action go back to January 2015 when the Arkansas State Board of Education announced that it was taking over Little Rock’s schools due to low standardized test scores. By all accounts, the ensuing state takeover failed to accomplish its nominal goal of improving stability and educational opportunities for the town’s low-performing schools. Yet rather than return Little Rock School District to local control in 2020 as promised, the state board instead proposed in September of this year that it would continue to oversee so-called “F”-rated schools, those with the lowest test scores.

Since all but one of the “F” schools were in black and brown neighborhoods south of I-630, teachers and parents saw this an attempt to create a two-tier school system. “The plan was blatantly racist, it separated the haves and the have notes,” Jenni White told me.

In a dramatic protest on the evening of October 9, thousands of teachers, support staff, students, and community members congregated on the steps of Central High, where the Little Rock Nine had famously confronted the National Guard decades earlier. Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association (LREA), closed the rally with the following declaration: “Either we accept segregation, or we stand and fight.”

This public outpouring forced the state board to change tactics. At the next evening’s contentious Arkansas Board of Education meeting, it dropped the proposal to split Little Rock’s school district. But surprisingly, the board then immediately proceeded to cease recognition of the LREA as the educators’ representative, thereby scrapping the last remaining collective bargaining agreement for school workers in Arkansas. The decision was blatant retaliation against not only teachers but also Little Rock’s school support staff, who were in the midst of negotiating a pay raise.

Next, the board issued a draft “Memorandum of Understanding” explaining that instead of returning full local control to the school board set to be elected in November 2020, the state would appoint a parallel “advisory board” that could veto local decisions. The Memorandum also insists on closing up to eleven neighborhood schools — which would thereby accelerate privatization, since state law gives charters first access to any vacant school. Stacey McAdoo, a teacher at Central High, told Labor Notes, “they are trying to charterize the [district] like what happened in New Orleans and disenfranchise people and make a separate school system out of the areas that are primarily Black and Latino.”

As in so many other states across the country, this offensive against the labor movement, public education, and working-class communities of color is being directly funded by billionaires. And it’s not just any billionaires: Little Rock teachers and students are up against the Arkansas-based Waltons, founders of Walmart and the richest familyin America.

The Walton family: the Death Star of Public Education. The ingrates who graduated from Arkansas public schools but now want to destroy them and public schools everywhere. Rich and shameless.

Grassroots Arkansas reports that the teachers of Little Rock will strike this Thursday. It will be a one-day strike. The State Board of Education (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Walton family) stripped the local union of its collective bargaining rights and is trying to destroy and privatize public education in that city. For the billionaire Waltons, Little Rock is the petri dish that is near at hand. They have so many petri dishes, all of which have failed. Why don’t they leave this small but historic district alone? (Answer: Because the Waltons want everything; having $150 billions has made them willful and arrogant.) The state took control of the district in 2015 and has agreed to return limited control, with a powerless board still controlled by the state.

Little Rock educators have announced a strike this Thursday, November 14, to demand that the state stop its re-segregation plan, return democracy through full local control of the LRSD, and recognize the union’s bargaining rights. Our educators and students need all of us to stand up for them before unlicensed subs and private companies complete the destruction and further segregation of our public education system.

There are several ways that you can support students and teachers. If you are a caregiver, please do whatever you can to keep your students home on Thursday, or send them to one of the childcare sites to be announced soon. The money follows the students, and the only power we have is if the students stay home. If they go to school, they will be babysat by unlicensed subs. Other ways you can support include:

  • Donate and share the Bread for Ed campaign to feed kids while the schools are shut down.

  • Tuesday and Wednesday: Pass out flyers at schools during drop-off and pickup times. Go by the AEA building at 1500 W 4th Street or call them at (501)375-4611 to see which schools most need coverage.

  • Tuesday and Wednesday: 4:00-7:00 Sign making at the AEA building. 1500 W 4th St by the Capitol.

  • Thursday: Picketing at schools from 7-9:30. Picket the State Board of Education meeting at 11:00. Sign up here.

Together, we can reclaim democracy and a world-class education for ALL students!

STRIKE DATE SET IN ARKANSAS: The Little Rock Education Association is calling for one locally elected city school board with full decision-making authority following the state’s takeover of the district in January 2015. The union planned the strike for the day of the next state board of education meeting, when the district is on the agenda.

— The state board last month voted to stop recognizing the union as a bargaining agent for its members. The state board also voted to return control of Little Rock schools to a locally elected school board by 2020, but limited its authority.

— “They specifically stated that the school board, once elected, would not be able to reinstate our recognition, nor would they be able to hire or fire a superintendent and that the commissioner of education would still have veto power over any decisions that the state or that the school board makes,” Knapp Gordon said.

— The announcement said the union is working with #OneLRSD to stop Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his appointed state board from “segregating the city’s public schools.” The board last month backed away from a plan to divide the district under separate governing systems amid complaints that it would segregate the district. But Knapp Gordon said “by retaining control over the district, they still get to make those decisions that will lead to the resegregation of our school district.”

Supporters of Students,
Join our students as they stay home for a “sick-out” in solidarity with our educators tomorrow, Wednesday, October 30th. If you are a caregiver of a student, you can call their absence in, and no matter who you are, you can join them at 12:45pm outside the Governor’s Office in the State Capitol, wearing red, holding supportive signs, and supporting them in their demands to meet with the Governor about an immediate return to democratically-elected, local control and return of recognition of the LREA Little Rock Teachers’ Union.
If you are a caregiver of a student or a student yourself, please fill out this pledge to show Asa, Key, and the State Board of Education how many students intend to follow educators in the event of a work action and encourage them to come to the table.
You can also support them by donating to the Bread for Ed fund here to provide meals for students who would be out of school during a shutdown and to cover associated costs. Over 70% of Little Rock students rely on free or reduced lunch, and your support will make it possible for them to stand in solidarity with teachers and educators.
You can support the LREA Member Care fund here to provide support for members in the case of a collective job action. Funds will be provided to members based on demonstrated need.
Lastly, save the date for Monday, November 4th, 5-7pm, for an LREA fundraiser at South on Main.
Together, we will win!
GRASSROOTS ARKANSAS

No philanthropy has spent more money to undermine and privatize public schools than the Waltons. The Waltons are the richest family in the U.S., possibly in the world, with a net worth in excess of $200 billion.

The Walton Family Foundation claims credit for launching at least one of every four charter schools in the nation. The foundation aims to eliminate public education, crush teachers’ unions, and destroy the teaching profession. The foundation has given nearly $100 million to Teach for America to supply inexperienced, ill-trained teachers to public and charter schools.

It is hard to understand the Waltons’ animus towards public schools, since the patriarch Sam Walton, his wife Helen, and all of his children were graduates of small-town public schools.

Sam graduated from David H. Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. His wife Helen was the valedictorian of her public high school in Claremont, Oklahoma.

John Walton (who died in a plane crash in 2005) graduated from the Bentonville High School in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Alice Walton, the richest woman in the world, graduated from Bentonville High School in 1966.

Jim Walton, net worth exceeding $40 billion, graduated from Bentonville High School in 1965.

Rob Walton’s wikipedia entry does not say where he attended school, but very likely it was the Bentonville public schools, like his siblings.

Why do the Waltons hate public education? Why do they feel no gratitude towards the free and democratically controlled public schools that educated them? Why no gratitude towards the experienced public school teachers at Bentonville public schools?

When a Walton store moves into a small community, it destroys Main Street by undercutting the prices that mom-and-pop stores need to survive. Mom and pop may get hired to be Walmart greeters or stocking clerks. Main Street dies as Walmart thrives. If the Walmart doesn’t show a profit, it closes, leaving the region without commerce.

On the website of the Walton Family Foundation, this saying by the matriarch is posted:

“It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.”

Favorite saying of Helen Walton
The Waltons have exemplified greed, hostility to the common good, ingratitude, selfishness. What a legacy.
 

Cathy Frye is a veteran journalist who joined the staff of the Arkansas Public Schools Resource Center as communications director for three years. She learned that APSRC was a shell organization funded by the billionaire Waltons to trick rural schools into joining the Walton crusade to eliminate public schools.

In this post, Frye names names.

She begins:

Tonight, I am sharing a Who’s Who in the Arkansas education “reform” movement.

First – a reminder: The end game is not charterization. It is privatization. Charter schools are merely a bridge. Look at them as place-holders.

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center, where I worked for three years as the communications director, purports to support both open-enrollment charter schools and rural traditional school districts. In actuality, APSRC is one of many Arkansas-based and Walton-funded lobbying entities.  Some of these organizations specialize in charters. Others exist to promote private schools and vouchers. One seeks to convince teachers that they don’t need to belong to unions. A couple others promote the alleged glories of school “choice.”

Here’s a list of such organizations:

Remember, Arkansas is not the only state being targeted by American billionaires who seek to do away with public education and those pesky teachers’ unions. The Waltons are among those leading the charge. Curious, isn’t it, that the Waltons and other billionaires who are supposedly concerned about education haven’t donated a dime to public schools. Instead, they’re focused on supporting charters and private schools. 

 

Cathy Frye worked for a Walton-funded front organization called the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, which really didn’t want to help public schools.

She has been spilling the beans in a series of posts. This is her latest. 

Her post contains links to her previous posts.

She begins:

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center touts itself as a “collaborative local partner” when describing how it excels in supporting rural traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter schools. 

APSRC, funded since 2008 by the Walton Family Foundation, describes the reason for its existence thusly:

The mission of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to support the improvement of public education by providing advocacy services on behalf of public schools with a special emphasis on charter schools and rural districts.

This is a blatant lie. 

Yes, APSRC will draft – and lobby for – legislation that will benefit the state’s open-enrollment charter schools. It also will sit idly by while Walton-backed legislation regarding private-school vouchers floats through the Legislature. I’ve watched APSRC do this twice, during the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions. 

But this “nonprofit” organization does not represent – let alone advocate for- the 85 percent of the state’s rural traditional public schools that are paying $2,500 per year to be members of APSRC. 

Nor does APSRC “represent” Arkansas’ larger school districts that are spending thousands of dollars on “technical-assistance” contracts. 

So why do 85 percent of Arkansas’ traditional public school districts remain – or become – APSRC members? 

 

 

Max Brantley, the editor of the Arkansas Times, is a journalist who fearlessly stands up to the all-powerful Walton Family in the state they think they own. Brantley is a hero of the Resistance in my forthcoming book SLAYING GOLIATH.

In this post, Brantley describes the Waltons’ efforts to destroy the Little Rock School District and to crush the Little Rock Education Association.

He writes:

They are doing to Little Rock schools what the foundation of the family fortune did to small towns all across America — hollowing them out. It’s a years-long, billion-dollar effort that favors “choice” — privately run charter schools, vouchers for private schools, taxpayer support for homeschoolers and a diminishment of the role of elected school boards.  Parents know best, the Walton acolytes assert, even when the studies show little proof that the various choices beat conventional public schools. They are still searching for the magic bullet for the grinding reality of the impact of poverty on standardized test scores, the misleading standard by which “failure” is determined…

Little Rock teachers are…complaining of a mass e-mail from the anti-union Arkansas State Teachers Association last night warning teachers against striking. This group had a $362,000 startup grant from the Walton Family Foundation, no surprise given how notoriously anti-union Walmart has always been. ASTA also has ties to a national anti-union organization founded by like-minded billionaires.  Teachers weren’t too happy to be spammed by the group. ASTA also has been peppering state newspapers with op-eds touting their anti-union views. Its leader, Michele Linch, was the lone public voice on the other side of an outpouring of public opposition to the attack on the LRSD and its union by the state Board of Education.

Teachers in Little Rock ARE talking strike. I confess misgivings. There’s not a readily attainable goal as seen in other states, such as a pay increase. Nor is there any realistic hope for a change of heart in the Asa Hutchinson- (and thus Walton-) controlled education hierarchy. As Ernie Dumas wrote this week, racial discrimination and union hatred (tied historically with racist thinking) have always been with us in Arkansas. The recent LRSD takeover was nothing more than a combination of both by the white male business ruling class, with the primary immediate goal of union wreckage.

The Waltons collectively have a fortune in excess of $100 billion. They buy people, they create organizations to implement their evil schemes, they think they can squelch democracy by the power of money.

Those with the courage to stand up to them—journalists like Max Brantley, the teachers of the Little Rock Education Association, the parents and activists of Grassroots Arkansas—are the heroes of our time. They oppose autocracy, plutocracy, and a vast conspiracy to destroy democracy.

 

Cathy Frye continues her tell-all report on working in a Walton-funded organization called the Arkansas Public School Resource Center. APSRC enlisted 85% of the state’s rural school districts with offers of help but its real purpose was to promote the Walton agenda of eliminating public schools and replacing them with private choices.

In this post, she describes the hostile, sexist, secretive workplace at APSRC and explains why she quit.