At least some Pulaski County legislators will rally Monday to oppose Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to start a school voucher program in Pulaski County to send 500 lower-income students to private schools.

After I saw Elliott’s first tweet on the 11 a.m. press conference by the Legislative Black Caucus and Pulaski legislators, I asked if they’d include the four legislators from Pulaski (not Little Rock) who’ve sponsored the bill — Sen. Mark Johnson and Reps. Mark Lowery, Carlton Wing and Doug House. Her response:

All legislators, Democrats & Republicans, who believe the attack of public schools must end are welcome. Be sure to let your Rep and Senator you need them to show up and support our public school students and families.

The Republican Party has begun ginning up a campaign in favor of the logical fallacy that “choice” must be better and vouchers are good. It’s built on many unsupportable, and sometimes demonstrably faulty, presumptions:

* That public schools are failing.

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* That private schools are better.

* That parents are ALWAYS the best judges of school quality.

* That the children who choose to leave are failing.

Study after study have demonstrated that voucher programs aren’t pathways to solving the education gap for poor and minority students. In Louisiana, a study of a similar voucher program showed conclusively that the voucher schools produced WORSE results than conventional public schools on reading and math tests. The outcome was so bad that Walton-financed researchers began pushing a new talking point: Standardized test scores don’t really matter, what matters are graduation rates and college going. But here and now in Pulaski County, the standardized test scores will be invoked to support the transfer of money to schools that will have no regulatory accountability and no public oversight.

The impact of motivated parents — a factor sometimes seen in the occasional higher-performing charter schools — says more about the importance of family in education success than the quality of the schools themselves.  Even the state has begun to recognize that “failing” students, as judged by a high-stakes test, may be making progress.

Also: Students in the so-called pilot program Hutchinson proposes would be open to children who qualify for either free or subsidized school lunches based on family income. Differences in poverty level just might play a role in success, given how strong poverty affects scores. Why not open it only to the toughest, poorest kids?

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Why does Hutchinson, a former opponent of vouchers, continue policies at his Education Department and in this proposal to harm public schools in Pulaski County? Is it the wealthy Waltons’ long-time targeting of Little Rock (and, particularly, its lone remaining teachers union)? Is it the unpopularity he’s experienced at the ballot box in Pulaski County? His administration also opposes the bill to provide a path for Little Rock School District voters to regain control of their schools.

From the attacks on Little Rock, you have to guess there is a plan afoot at the Education Department and under discussion by the phalanx of lobbyists, nonprofit employees and other Walton allies for the future of LRSD that doesn’t include re-establishment of a conventional public school district when the five years of failed state supervision ends in January.

Again to the rest of Arkansas: Don’t be blinded by animus toward Pulaski County and the undeniable racial element (majority black public school districts) that is catnip to Republican politicians. If they can voucherize and charterize Pulaski County, they can do it anywhere.

More from Joyce Elliott on return of democracy to the Little Rock School District, if only our school board, Johnny Key, and the governor’s Board of Education and the legislature didn’t stand in the way:

A Way to Return LRSD to the People

Linked on this post is SB553, which was introduced by Sen. Will Bond. It provides a the Department of Education/State Board of Education/Gov. Hutchinson a pathway to return the Little Rock School District to the people.

The Department of Education has come out against the bill while at the same time the LRSD has regressed under its control. With that kind of record, why should the State Board of Education not LRSD return the district to the people along with a democratically elected school board?

On Wednesday, March 27th, SB553 will be heard in the Senate Education Committee, which starts at 10 o’clock, but we don’t know exactly what time the bill will be heard. We need you to be there, speak up and fight for our #OurLRSD.

Obviously, there is more pulling apart of LRSD the Board and the Department have yet to do. Just think about the Governor-supported SB620 to offer the bright, shiny object of vouchers rather than do the work of creating world-class schools for all students in the district? We know how.

Call your legislators and ask them to support SB553 to return LRSD to the people and to oppose SB620 that continues the attack on LRSD.

Noted: Hutchinson’s Pulaski voucher plan (is this special local legislation, a reader asked) is one of three voucher-expanding bills in the legislature this session — $3 million for students with special needs, $3 million more statewide for any student and the governor’s $3.5 million plan for Pulaski. If all pass, that’s almost $10 million in taxpayer money to send up to 1,500 students to private schools of unknown quality (and sometimes overtly religious) with money that otherwise would go to public schools statewide. That amounts to roughly a loss of $10  in the amount available for every student in every Arkansas public school district. (Figure a half-million Arkansas public school students and about half the state general revenue budget goes to public education.) Once the voucher program is institutionalized, this figure will only increase. It’s scandal-marred billion-dollar-business in Florida now.

UPDATE: And this from the Arkansas Citizens First Congress fits in.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other lawmakers have a very tight state budget at the end of this legislative session, and a stark choice:

Do they spend the remaining budget on a wasteful return to the dark days of segregation, or on early childhood programs proven to dramatically improve the education of ALL students?

While lawmakers say there’s no money for proven solutions like improving early childhood education or funding after-school and summer programs, three private voucher schemes have been introduced in the legislature that will cost Arkansas taxpayers up to $10 million.

Call Gov. Hutchinson and your lawmakers today! Tell them you oppose SB539, SB620 and HB1726.

If all three of these bills pass, they could send 1,500 students to private schools with money that would otherwise go to public school districts statewide, amounting to a loss of about $10 available to every student enrolled in Arkansas’ public schools.

Ask them to SUPPORT SB618, which will put nearly $6 million into tax credit incentives to help early childhood educators improve the quality of their programs.