The Walton-subsidized University of Arkansas has issued a news release today about a report from a Walton-financed arm of the UA, the Department of Education Reform, that more money is spent on conventional public school districts than on charter schools, which the Walton heirs are spending hundreds of millions to promote in the United States, often to the detriment of existing public school districts.
I believe there are some understandable factors that lessen the the drama about the gap, ranging from less-experienced teachers who are paid less, differences in facilities and extra money given to public school districts for such considerations as desegregation plans (money to be phased out in Little Rock, for example) and federal money for poor students.
The biggest gap is a lack of local property tax revenue for charters and state construction funding. Walton lobbyists have managed to open the door in Arkansas a crack on construction funding with a state-subsidized revolving loan fund. If they find a way to snatch local property taxes it will surely be the death of many school districts, particularly in urban areas. Charter schools also don’t receive some of the special funding enhancements that conventional school districts get above base funding. It’s another enhancement that could from nowhere but out of the pockets of other schools given the legislature’s reluctance to increase spending outlays. By the way: charter school get several thousand dollars more per student in base state foundation aid in Little Rock than the Little Rock School District gets because its base payment is reduced by its property wealth.
The report doesn’t discuss the fact that charter schools have a built-in advantage worth more than money. Unlike public school districts, they are not forced to take and keep all comers, no matter their educational status or (lack of) parental or student commitment to an education. Some charter schools have also benefited from significant infusions of money from the Waltons and other billionaires. In New York city, much has been written about the advantages enjoyed by charter schools sometimes operating in the same buildings as conventional public schools.
Like just about everything from the Walton’s department at UA, it’s all about pushing charter schools at the expense of conventional public school districts, though national studies have yet to demonstrate a significant difference overall in student performance . One charter school operator the Waltons have supported in Arkansas, Responsive Education Solutions, has even been cited in a national study as doing worse with demographic groups typically hardest to educate. The Walton money is nonetheless helping this operator set up a charter school in western Little Rock aimed directly at taking away more economically advantaged students from the Little Rock School District.
That’s my take.
The department promises a return-on-investment study later that will demonstrate performance per buck. As I’ve said before about the Quest charter school the Waltons are backing to cream still more good students from Little Rock: Give me 200 kids from middle- to upper-income families whose parents attend all school meetings and commit to longer days and longer school years and I’ll show you a school that will “succeed.” — in a pup tent. Show me a public school district with only the students left after charters and vouchers have bled parents who want to flee the underclass and I’ll show you a “failure” and a surrounding city to match.
The Walton-subsidized researchers say the funding gaps, which they say have grown, are “alarming” and “unfair.” I’m alarmed at the end result of the billionaires’ push to explode a universal education system that has worked better, overall, than the “reformers’ like to credit. It’s an unfair haves-havenots system, where all students are increasingly deprived of exposure to kids from all walks of life.
As I wrote yesterday, El Dorado stands as proof that there’s a third way. Additional infusions of money, spent smartly, can do wonders for conventional public school districts. The UA’s Walton cadre has acknowledged as much in another report, though they didn’t exactly put it the same way I did in touting the good news in El Dorado.