The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports today that a would-be charter school operator in Little Rock says his job’s been made more difficult by the discovery that Valerie Tatum, the former leader of Covenant Keepers College Preparatory Charter School had, in recent days, drained more than $188,000 from an account necessary to operate the school.
Joe Harris, a leader of Friendship Education Foundation of Washington, D.C., says it’s not likely to be able to continue as interim operator of the troubled school without the money. Friendship hopes to fuly take over the charter school next year and run a couple of other Arkansas charter schools as well.
You can get the details of this missing money (Tatum declined comment on the theft allegation) in the D-G article. But let me make a point on one thing mentioned in passing in the article and mention another not discussed.
* The article mentions that the school has been plagued by financial irregularities and poor academic performance. If there was meaningful charter school accountability in Arkansas, this school would not be in operation today. Accountability is only reserved for the Little Rock School District by the state Board of Education, thanks to its control by charter school advocates such as Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Walton Family Foundation. Department staffers recommended revocation of the school’s charter in 2017, but the state board overrode the recommendation.
* The article didn’t mention Tatum’s candidacy for Little Rock City Board in 2018. You may remember she filed for a ward seat from a residence that wasn’t in the ward. She had suddenly moved there, suppose after years of living in Maumelle. She also made a total hash of her campaign finance reports, as only the Arkansas Times seemed interested in pursuing at the time. That campaign finished deep in the red.
Scant attention was given, too, to the City Board’s pullback from the city attorney’s recommendation that she be disqualified from the race for filing from an ineligible residency, This decision followed heated advocacy for Tatum by her lawyer, Jess Askew, coincidentally a frequent legal figure on behalf of Walton Family Foundation-backed charter schools and other “school choice” efforts. (In today’s D-G article, Tatum wouldn’t say who her attorney is in her latest round of problems. Perhaps a criminal law specialist in this case.)
Tatum enjoyed financial support in her Little Rock board race from wealthy charter school backer and Murphy Oil beneficiary Claiborne Deming of El Dorado, and other conservative business people, including a close friend of the governor. She lost to Director Ken Richardson. The business establishment has long tried to seize control of that seat from black candidates such as Richardson, who are more popular with the neighborhood than the chamber of commerce. Tatum was a perfect wedge candidate, black but friendly to the billionaire agenda.
Is flipping this school operation over to Friendship without a full application process a fair and accountable way to exhibit state oversight of charter schools? I’d say not. But my name isn’t Walton.
I repeat myself, from this column back when I looked askance at Tatum knocking down $135,000 for running a 160-student school with poor academic results.
Speaking of charter schools: There’s a potential humdinger of a state Board of Education meeting today on Haas Hall, the Northwest Arkansas charter school whose ability to assemble high-achieving student bodies (short on minority, non-English and special students) regularly earns it accolades. Does it take operational steps to ensure success-likely student bodies? That’s one of the core issues likely to be discussed.
UPDATE: Special handling is underway for Friendship. The charter authorizing panel will have a special meeting at 3 p.m. today to consider allowing Friendship to take Covenant grade 6-8 students into its elementary school on 25th Street