THEIR FIGHT IS OUR FIGHT: LA teachers on strike. Twitter/LAist Chava Sancher

Good article in Jacobin magazine about the Los Angeles teachers strike, at its core of universal interest because it is a fight against billionaires’ hostile takeover of public schools.

The plan of these business leaders is simple: break-up the school district into thirty-two competing “portfolio” networks, in order to replace public schools with privately run charters. As firm believers in the dogmas of market fundamentalism, these influential downsizers truly believe that it’s possible to improve education by running it like a private business. Not coincidentally, privatization would also open up huge avenues for profit-making — and deal a potentially fatal blow to one of the most well-organized and militant unions in the country, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). As union leader Arlene Inouye explains, “This is a struggle to save public education; the existence of public education in our city is on the line.”

The stakes are higher in Los Angeles, but the same fight is underway in Little Rock and Arkansas. Consider:

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* I’ve been flooded this week by news releases touting “school choice” week from organizations supported by the Walton family fortune, one employing a legislative lobbyist.

* An Arkansas blogger has dug up a wealth of information that suggests, at a minimum, the state Education Department is ignoring criticism of practices of one of the rare high-achieving charter schools in Arkansas.

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* The charter school advisory panel yesterday took no action and seemingly expressed little concern about the voluntary end of a Little Rock charter school that has failed financially and academically. It will likely rubberstamp a new operator of the same school, unburdened by the debt it ran up. The panel also did nothing about an F-rated charter school, even as the Education Department and governor signal an intention to never let go of the Little Rock School District on account of low test scores in a handful of schools with the most difficult student populations.

* The legislature will soon take up legislation backed by billionaires to expand school vouchers in Arkansas, to beat back accountability measures for charter schools and, if further action is necessary, to make it easier for private operators to take over the Little Rock School District. (The last may not be necessary. Prevailing Department legal opinion now seems to be they can do whatever they want with the Little Rock School District, its teachers and its tax money, local voters be damned.)

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Those of you around Arkansas who think this is just a Little Rock story best think again. This could happen to you, too.

From Jacobin’s enemies list:

The Walton Family

In a watershed moment for the drive to take over Los Angeles public education, pro-charter billionaires spent an unprecedented $9.7 million to buy the 2017 Los Angeles school board elections. A key funder of this campaign to elect charter school acolytes was none other than the Walton Family, best known as the founders of Walmart.

Having made their fortune through union-busting and infamously low wages, the Arkansas-based Waltons — now the richest family in the world — have spent much of the last two decades bankrolling the privatization of public education. Nominally, this philanthropy is dedicated to improving life prospects for low-income families. Yet as journalist Harold Meyerson notes, “a more direct way to help them would be to give workers at Walmart . . . a raise and to give them more hours.”

For the Waltons, their $2.2 million contribution to the 2017 school board election was just a drop in the bucket. Over recent years, the Walton Family Foundation has given $84 million to Los Angeles charter schools and it has spent $1.3 billion on “school reform” efforts nationwide. And in a further effort to capture the hearts and minds of Angelinos, a Walton-funded media outlet, The 74, took over the well-respected LA Schools Report in 2016.

These initiatives have already had a major impact on Los Angeles. About 18 percent of students now attend charter schools, a rate far higher than in the rest of the country.

Arkansas, in terms of capital outlay, is a cheap purchase.