Alternet has posted an extensive retelling by Kali Holloway of the defeat in the 2015 legislature of a bill that would have allowed privatization of the Little Rock School District. It was the work of the Walton Family Foundation and pushed by their paid lobbyists and subsidiaries and legislators they’ve supported.
As we reported at the time and since, a local grassroots group joined with state school administrators, the School Boards Association, advocates for rural schools, the Arkansas Education Association and others to deal the Walton lobbyists and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who supported the bill along with long-time Walton ally Johnny Key, a former senator and now education commissioner, a somewhat surprising defeat.
A small element missing from the story is the participation in the defeat of the establishment Little Rock business community. Yes, they wanted the majority-black school board ousted in Little Rock. But enough of them are veterans of the school district and efforts to preserve it that they weren’t ready to throw in with charterization of the city, recognizing that it would mean the destruction of conventional public schools.
The Waltons will be back. They have the money and full-time employees — such as Gary Newton who devotes his life daily to demonizing the Little Rock School District — to continue the battle. At the Arkansas legislature, generally, money will out. And there’s no shortage where this comes from.
The article is an invaluable account for school policy wonks. As Holloway wrote:
In an era in which Walton money is, state by state and district by district, changing one of our most vital public institutions into a guaranteed investment scheme for the rich and powerful and popularizing the neoliberal notion that our schools are so irreparably broken they can only be saved by a new competition-based, market-driven education system, the defeat of HB1733 deserves an up-close look. It’s the rare story of a win that, for reasons both practical and symbolic, should get the attention of everyone who values the institution of public education.