The element of the Walton Family Foundation/Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation plan for Arkansas schools with the most chance of passage — because it’s nominally cost-free — is the recommendation to move school elections from September (tomorrow this year) to the general election date.
Conservative have long carried a torch for this idea. Participation in school elections is small because mostly only those who care turn out.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page — the major mouthpiece for the Walton school agenda because Publisher Walter Hussman shares it — naturally lauded the idea today. In the process, it baldly misstated what this is all about. It boiled opposition to the idea down to this:
The unions will hate such a move. They like it when their people vote, and nobody else. That way they can hand-pick the school board.
This is very nearly dishonest.
First. Unions? Plural?
There is in an Arkansas a single organized labor organization, the Arkansas Education Association, that collects dues from members and works in the interest of members and education. It has never functioned as a union — negotiating contracts — in more than three or four school districts. It has been most effective in Little Rock and the Pulaski County Special School District. The Pulaski districts are everybody’s favorite boogeymen. Small point: The union was thrown out by the state after it took over Pulaski County. For now the state is willing to talk to the Little Rock union about pay, but it’s pretty clear the days of any sort of meaningful discussion of working conditions are over. And, small point, there’s no school board here anyway.
I”d challenge the Democrat-Gazette to name three districts out of more than 200 where “unions” have influenced school elections in the last year in Arkansas outside of Pulaski County.
Of much more interest to the plutocrats is the other main agenda item at school elections — property taxes. There is a belief — an article of faith among management (school superintendents and school boards) — that September school elections are more amenable to school taxes because they are contested by people with interests in the schools. They fear general election tax proposals before a generally anti-tax populace (moreso now than ever before). This is precisely why the conservatives want broader participation, to increase the chances for electoral defeat of taxes. (It manages to happen plenty anyway.)
Unions? No, that’s not what this is about.
These school elections aren’t secret by the way. If people don’t vote, why should the date be blamed rather than those who simply chose to stay home?
PS — I said the school election date change was nominally cost-free. There’s a cost in enhancing the chances of withering tax support for schools. Decaying facilities, lower pay for staff, fewer educational extras (elective courses, extracurricular enhancements) for students. And, then, if the real public schools get degraded enough, you can bet there’s a Walton grant handy tor a charter school operator to step into the void. What other reason could there be for including this in the education wish list?