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Max Brantley, columnist for the Arkansas Times, writes that legislation has been filed to create a statewide district for low-performing schools. The legislators apparently want to copy the failed Achievement School District in Tennessee (which has made minimal progress towards its goals of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools within five years) and the failed Recovery School District in Louisiana (one of the lowest ranked districts in the state). The distinguishing characteristics of these districts is that 1) they eliminate public education; 2) they eliminate school boards elected by the people; 3) they allow the legislature to lower standards for teachers; 4) they enable the schools to be turned into privately managed charter schools, often (usually?) run by out-of-state operators. The proposed legislation says that the new district will be run by a nonprofit but experience shows that the nonprofit outsources many of its functions to for-profits and pays its executives salaries that far exceed those of local superintendents.
Some of the key elements of the bill:
The commissioner can assign whole districts or single schools to the state “achievement district” for purposes of such out-sourcing.
The law significantly advances existing takeover powers by allowing the commissioner to waive the teacher fair dismissal act. Due process in firing? Gone. The state can also waive the fair hearing law and any requirement to engage in collective bargaining. Employees become at-will — fireable for any, or no, reason
The nonprofit operators need not hire licensed teachers.; observe laws on length of day and holidays; or have a school board. The nonprofit operator DOES get to claim the voter-approved local property tax, whether residents of the district like that or not.
If only a specific school is taken over, the rest of an existing school district can be forced to provide transportation, meals and such for the taken-over school. This scheme is followed in some other states where charters have taken hold on a broader basis. You could call it taxation without representation. The Walton Family Foundation and the education “reformers” it subsidizes at the Walton campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville probably would call it canny business practice,
The nonprofit operator can get existing school buildings — again built by local tax millage — for free (sorry, $1 a year.)
Minimum takeover period would be three years. But it could be five years before residents would get their schools back under local control.
Yes it applies after the fact to the Little Rock School District.
One thing we have learned from the New Orleans experience. Those schools that are taken over will never be returned to their local school district. The state will keep raising the bar to keep them privatized.
Call it legal theft. Give big campaign contributions. Control the legislature. Ask them to give public schools and public property to entrepreneurs. Privatize public education. It is more than breathtaking. It is sickening.
A public school or school district that is classified by the State Board of Education as being in academic distress and taken over by the state board as of the effective date of this act is eligible to become part of the achievement school district at the discretion of the Commissioner of Education.
I’m surprised the bill specifically doesn’t allow these charters a waiver from civil rights, gun, vaccination and public record laws, given the Republican backing. Gays MAY be discriminated against, of course, because they are not covered by state civil rights law. And Bart Hester aims to keep it that way.
I’ve had persistent reports of Gov. Asa Hutchinson having met with some of the wealthy Arkansans who are backing the “reform” movement to talk about dramatic upheaval in education. This would certainly be it. It first faces an Education Committee evenly split on partisan lines, but the Billionaire Boys Club (Walton, Stephens, Hussman, Murphy fortunes) has also worked to win friends on the Democratic side.