DEMONSTRATION: Outside King Elementary this morning. Jordan Little


An overflow crowd filled First United Methodist Church last night
in support of Little Rock school teachers and, more generally, locally controlled public schools. Informational picketing continued today as a crisis point nears.

The event was spurred by Education Commissioner Johnny Key’s rejection of a new teacher contract without a clause that makes it easier to fire teachers. Key is targeting only teachers in Little Rock schools graded D and F in the test-score-driven school grading system. Not other Little Rock schools. Not other D and F schools around the state.

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The current teacher contract expires Wednesday. The Little Rock Education Association and Little Rock Superintendent Michael Poore are continuing to negotiate, but there appears to be little wiggle room. Key, who is the school board and has been for four year sunder state control, has indicated he won’t bend on easier firing. The union is defending a hard-won protection against arbitrary firing won decades ago for ALL Arkansas school teachers. Now Key wants to use it in schools enrolling majority poor, minority and often non-English speaking students, without taking action against himself, his department, school district administrators or school principals for the rising number of supposed deficient schools.

Many see the move as a way to end the contract with LREA, long a goal of such influential players as the Walton Family Foundation and Republican politicians. The Little Rock business community, which favored the state takeover, also is unfriendly toward organized labor, in schools and everywhere else. Now’s their chance to get it done.

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It won’t solve the nationally intractable problem of closing test score gaps between lower income (often disproportionately minority) and higher income students. One sure help in that gap is diverse student bodies — a mix of different economic strata. That has tended to be discouraged, with a few cream-skimming outlier exceptions, by the charter school movement and the unlimited school transfer law backed by the Walton billions in Arkansas, Johnny Key, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others.

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The attack here is on something much larger than the Little Rock teachers union. It is the egalitarian U.S. public school system itself (along with sufficient state funding ). That message has been received in some other states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, and the public has risen up. It’s important here — and this was evident in grassroots support last night — that the Arkansas public get that message, too.

In the short run, odds seem to be running strong that the LREA will take a strike vote when negotiations surely fail. I think it will be a public relations miscalculation, but Key (with undoubtedly with assistance from his betters) has gotten the union pinned in a corner. In the longer run, return of local control and a reasonable school board that recognizes the value of LREA association is the only long-term hope for the teachers.

The Democrat-Gazette’s Stephen Simpson had thorough coverage of the event. It ran on the back page of the B section of the paper. A funny place, I thought, for a typically sleepy Monday newspaper when a page one local story was about a 3D printer at Children’s Hospital. Editorially, the newspaper coincidentally hates unions, loves charter schools and endorses every aspect of the Walton Foundation agenda.