Shorter headline proposed for Hunter Field’s fine article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning on bids to study school funding adequacy in Arkansas:

The fix is in.

Arkansas is sliding annually in meeting adequacy of school funding mandated by the landmark Lakeview decision. The legislature finally has been prodded into an assessment. But Republican legislators, who don’t want to spend a dime more than necessary, are busy putting fists on the scale.

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We learn from Field’s excellent article that inside information from an unnamed legislator or legislators led to the single-purpose creation in Missouri of a company that has submitted the lower of two bids received to do this study.

And who might the leaders of this enterprise include? Answer: devotees of school vouchers and charter schools. The leader of the company is a University Arkansas graduate, a participant in a right-wing (excuse me, “free market and individual liberty”) think tank.  He proposes to partner with the Office of Education Policy at the Walton Family campus of the University of Arkansas, a unit stocked with people whose livelihood is enhanced by Walton financial contributions and who realiably extol “school choice.”

If this is the path to be chosen, whyhire a middle man? Just ring up Kathy Smith at the Walton Family Foundation and let HER write a report for the legislature. They can afford to do it for free.

Vouchers and charters can be run more cheaply, no doubt. These schools need not worry about good teacher pay and benefits, tolerable working conditions, expansive curriculum, transportation and many other facets of quality real public schools.

This move comes with exquisite timing, as the state Board of Education, also in thrall to the Walton agenda thanks to Gov. Asa “Faubus” Hutchinson’s wholesale commitment to the Billionaire Boys Club, is about to move “like a bitch,” as Donald Trump once put it, on the Little Rock School District. An obscene grab is coming, worthy of Trump.

Sen. Joyce Elliott, one of the lonely Democratic voices in the wilderness, has posted on Twitter today a past article, “Cashing in on Kids,” that illustrates what’s at work. It’s nothing less than the destruction of the U.S. public education system.

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The article is interesting because it makes the point that mass conversion of public school students to charter school students (publicly funded private schools, essentially) not only eventually spells the end of public schools it destroys the idea of charter schools. They were supposed to be small-scale experiments aimed at finding strategies that work with disadvantaged kids. Says the report:

This report explores the radical agenda of the Walton family and the foundation it controls, and how that agenda has taken the U.S. charter school movement away from education quality in favor of a strategy focused only on growth. Under the guise of “choice” to improve schools for low-income children, WFF has supported the unregulated growth of a privatized education industry— quantity over quality, and “freedom” over regulation. It’s been lucrative for some, but a disaster for many of the nation’s most vulnerable students and school districts.

There’s little in the research to show marked gains in test scores thanks to vouchers or charter schools. The opposite, in some cases.

But there’s no doubt the movement is damaging to public school districts — by design, the authors of this report suggest. Think the Little Rock School District, beset by burgeoning charters that created new seats in neighborhoods already oversupplied and producing little to show for it except luring away students who WERE succeeding.

Consider a quote in the report Elliott circulated from a charter school advocate who’s received Walton Foundation money in Florida:

“Charters are competitors. They steal customers, deplete revenues and increase costs. When charters siphon off kids, they not only take the money that comes with them, they often cause nearby schools to operate under capacity. This increases inefficiencies and per-student costs because all that empty space still must be maintained.

 

As charters continue to expand, they will force districts to make more and more tough choices on personnel, closing schools and redrawing attendance boundaries, both political poisons. We are seeing this play out in spectacular fashion in some older urban areas.”

 

And there’s more:

But the most chilling articulation of the Walton agenda came in a 2008 article published in EducationNext. The article, called “Wave of the Future,” was written by Andy Smarick, who has worked for a number of Walton-funded entities. Smarick, too, calls for the replacement of traditional public school districts:

 

“… The only course that is sustainable, for both chartering and urban education, embraces a third, more expansive view of the movement’s future: replace the district-based system in America’s large cities with fluid, self-improving systems of charter schools.”

Little Rock, anyone? The coming education “adequacy” study, anyone? The state Board of Education meeting Thursday? Do you detect some theme music?

I’m well aware that little sympathy exists in the balance of the state for Little Rock — schools or otherwise, now or historically. But the balance of the state best not kid themselves. This school “reform” movement doesn’t stop at the borders of Pulaski County.

PS: See also “The Walmartization of public education.”

PPS: Count me  little assured by Rep. Bruce Cozart’s promise in the D-G article of a fair process led by this ad hoc created-for-a-purpose company of school choicers. I’ll remind you that Cozart schemed with Walton-financed sources to pass legislation to privatize the Little Rock School District in 2015, a bill pulled down only after a last-minute uproar joined by school administrators statewide, who understood the broader peril.

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