Mayor Frank Scott Jr. confirmed in a phone call last night a commitment he’d made in a Facebook conversation to ask education czar Johnny Key to include a moratorium on creation of additional charter school seats in the Little Rock School District as part of an understanding on future operation of the district.
The comments were first made in response to a question I’d suggested in a discussion of Little Rock schools on Facebook in which Scott engaged with some critics of his work on Little Rock schools.
Scott is in something of a ticklish spot. He’s waded into Little Rock school issues more than any predecessor and has vowed to put city resources behind multi-dimensional efforts in the schools lagging farthest behind — typically schools in poor minority neighborhoods. For his trouble, he’s gotten some criticism for not acting forcefully enough.
Scott is a conciliator by nature. His stock response to tough decisions — charter versus true public schools; union vs. non-union — is that he represents all in the community. He was endorsed for mayor by charter school backer Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, for his potential to be a charter school supporter, unlike runoff opponent Baker Kurrus. That was at the root of the Facebook discussion put in motion by Cathy Frye on a Friends of LRSD Facebook page that drew some criticism to which Scott responded.
Heat was directed at Scott because he’s been meeting with the state about a memorandum of understanding on Little Rock schools. School czar Key put out a draft MOU this week that was a repudiation of return of local control of the schools, soon or ever. The draft was so bad that Scott put out a statement later the same day making clear that the memorandum didn’t reflect HIS thinking. He commented in the Facebook thread:
My loyalties are to the citizen of Little Rock, all 200,000 of them. The City of Little Rock is only involved in the implementation of the Community Schools Model for our most challenged LRSD schools. We are not a party to ADE’s LRSD MOU to return local control with November 2020 elections. I’m on public record advocating for complete and full control of LRSD. In the meantime, I’m focused on solutions with the realistic understanding of what I can and cannot do. I’m not the Governor or the Secretary of Education, and could have easily sat on sideline and not engage at all. However, my engagement is in the best interest of our city, students and teachers. Do we agree on approach? Sure. Although, my heart and soul is with the LRSD teachers who raised me.
The thread included the items I’ve shown at top and he confirmed that I read them correctly in a followup phone call.
We discussed, too, a pending potential issue for which the city is preparing: a teacher strike. Should it happen, and it’s not clear it will because of divisions within the union on strategy, he’ll have another moment of decision.
Scott has said that he didn’t agree with the state Board of Education decision to end recognition of the Little Rock Education Association. But I think it fair to say he also recognizes the stark realities of the situation. The Asa Hutchinson administration hates the teachers union. It will not back off booting the union. It will see it as a political windfall if teachers strike. Asa Faubus doesn’t care what Little Rock thinks. It overwhelmingly voted against him, black voters particularly and they provide the majority of the district’s students.
As I’ve said before, I have deep misgivings about a teacher strike. The only potential goals — renewed union recognition or full local control of the district by an elected school board — are non-starters with Asa Hutchinson and the billionaires who influence his thinking. What would the end game be of a prolonged strike that kept kids out of school that many so desperately need?
I suspect public sympathy for teachers looking primarily for union recognition won’t be deep in this right to work state, certainly not outside the boundaries of the Little Rock School District and the declining number of parents who remain committed to it.
What’s needed is a longer strategy, one that builds goodwill toward independent Little Rock schools, students and teachers for the November school election, when a board, albeit with uncertain powers, will be elected. Walton money can be expected to arrive on the side of those who support further privatization of the Little Rock School District (except those high-achieving schools in upscale white neighborhoods). Benton County billionaire control of our local schools could and should be a potent issue on the other side, particularly if it’s pitched on the broader public good and the demonstrated failure of privatization nationally, not merely union representation of teachers.
In the meanwhile, I’m happy to take Scott’s promise to ask for a charter moratorium. It will go nowhere, with the billionaire-controlled Hutchinson administration. But Scott has been used by the Hutchinson administration as a valuable ally, a partner even on Little Rock schools. Black politicians who side with the Republican majority are rare. So his opinion is valuable when expressed in opposition.
Charters, which now enroll thousands of students in Little Rock district boundaries, have leached better students as well as financial aid from the district. The end game for the Waltons is New Orleans’ charterized school system. FWIW: It’s a chaotic mess.