A whole herd of cows escaped the barn before the state Education Department finally shut the doors on the Covenant Keepers charter school in southwest Little Rock. Now it’s seeking answers. And a belated welcome to the local newspaper’s interest, too.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, never particularly worked up about Covenant Keepers’ shoddy record (it WAS a charter school after all and these “laboratories of innovation” don’t have to follow rules real public schools follow nor say they’re sorry when they fail), reports today that the state Education Department is having no luck getting a full financial accounting from school founder and operator Valerie Tatum. She says through her lawyer that she’s turned over all the records she has on the missing $188,000. The state may ask to have her held in contempt of court. Voters should intervene to ask the state to be held in contempt for its failed oversight.
Some background that the D-G, whose owner is a stalwart charter school backer, didn’t include in its reporting today:
- Remember when Jess Askew, frequent legal foot soldier for the school “choice” movement backed by the Walton Family Foundation billions, angrily — and successfully — opposed a recommendation that the charter be revoked?
- Remember that the Walton foundation poured cash into the failing school to keep it afloat when it fell into the red?
- Remember when Board chair Diane Zook, the Madame Chiang-style dragon lady of Arkansas education who won’t take her claws out of the Little Rock School District, said the school was moving in the “right direction”
- Remember when state Board members Charisse Dean and Fitz Hill, Little Rock residents who’ve backed punitive measures against Little Rock public schools as recently as a week ago, seemed unconcerned about Covenant Keepers? Dean said parents weren’t objecting, so what was the big deal?
- Remember when Joan Adcock, a city director who was happy to see the Little Rock School Board abolished, argued to keep the charter open?
- Remember that in nine years, Covenant Keepers NEVER met academic proficiency standards, but that didn’t prevent the head of the Walton-funded charter school propaganda unit at the University of Arkansas from putting in an appearance to defend its continued operation? Remember that Tatum promised improvement given the help she was getting from the Walton-financed Arkansas Public School Resource Center?
And what about Valerie Tatum, who knocked down $135,000 a year in tax money leading the school and was associated with the nonprofit group that was the nominal operator? Remember when she ran for City Board from an address outside the district of the seat she was seeking (this after claiming a Maumelle residence for years)? Remember the pluperfect mess she made of her campaign finance reports that the Arkansas Times uncovered? Remember that the city attorney was going to press to have her removed from the ballot, but retreated — probably because of pressure from people who supported Tatum, including fat cat school choicers, business establishment types and power players like Adcock? Ken Richardson, no favorite of the business community, but popular in his district, won re-election anyway. For that, at least, we can be thankful. I hesitate to think what Tatum might have done in doling out a share of city money to nonprofits that work with youths.
Long story short: This was a failing charter school, academically and financially. The operator was untrustworthy. Despite numerous red flags, it was allowed to stay in business for nine years because of powerful friends, the kind who influence punitive state policy against the Little Rock School District. And it was a charter school.
NOW the state wants its money back? Good luck with that.
The Democrat-Gazette has given more attention to the shortcomings of the school and Tatum since its implosion. But even today, the newspaper felt obligated to offer an excuse for Covenant Keepers’ low performance:
…. affected in part by teacher turnover and a highly transient student population, including pregnant girls and other students who come and go from nontraditional institutions such as juvenile-detention centers and mental-health treatment programs.
Low-income students with poor English speaking skills? Homeless students? Transient populations? Pregnant girls? Unmet mental health needs? Welcome to the Little Rock School District, which has a few schools the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page, Diane Zook and the Walton-paid lobbying force often brand as failures. For this, they’ve taken over the entire district for five years and send no signal of ever letting go.
And teacher turnover? The DOG, excuse me D-G, recently editorialized in support of the mass firing of the staff of Hall High School, which has posted better results than Covenant Keeper ever did and where, so far as I know, they’ve NOT (word omitted in original post) failed to account for public dollars.