Everyone should wake up and pay attention to what is happening in Little Rock with the state legislature in session. There is an attempt in the offing to decimate this state's commitment to and support of public education being pushed by billionaire-backed political interests that disdain our public schools and the hard working teachers that work in those classrooms.
First, let's look at the legislation that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was here to push with Wal-Mart heirs and the head of the Dillard's empire. Two bills have already been filed that show some of the misguided and nefarious maneuverings of this new legislature. First, you have HB 1040 which seeks to take oversight of charter schools away from the Arkansas Department of Education and put it under a new Charter School Commission.
This bill has been filed because the Department of Education insists on some level of accountability from charter schools (though probably not enough). These rich interests want a new commission to rubber stamp charter applications and make it where almost no application would be denied. If these folks have their way, people will start receiving money to home-school as long as they call themselves a charter. It's crazy. What is sad is that so many of the legislators backing this piece of nonsense claim to be small government conservatives, yet they want to create more government so that they can essentially deregulate the charter schools in this state. In other words, they want to allow anyone to call themselves a charter school and get taxpayer money to line their pockets regardless of the education offered. It is ridiculous.
These same billionaires and their political soldiers want to raid the government teat that they seek to take away from programs helping the poor and less fortunate have two more bills that would divert more tax money to these schools at the expense of facing the real issues and supporting a public school system that benefits all instead of a select few. SB 104 and 117 seek to take $1 million for charter schools to build more buildings. On the one hand they say that charter schools spend less money and on the other they seek to take a million dollars that could go to help support public education or Medicaid expansion to line the pockets of places like KIPP that get to shape their student bodies to their benefit and that some studies have shown don't always retain those students that are most at-risk. I guess all of that private foundation money places like KIPP get isn't enough. I guess these small-government legislators don't really mean it when they say government spends too much. It just spends too much on programs that don't benefit their fat cat donors.
This lead me to the insulting aspects of the rally today. The charter school advocates, according to articles I have read today, said public school teachers were selfish people who were only concerned about their own pay and benefits and did not care about children in their classrooms. This should fire up all public school teachers to call their legislators and oppose these pieces of legislation. Public school teachers work hard every day and are not getting rich. They do the jobs because they care. I am a teacher. My Mother was a teacher. My Father has been a teacher and administrator. They gave their lives so that thousands of children would have a chance for a better life. I can assure you that they didn't do it for the money. Anyone who knows my salary knows that I don't do it for the money either. It is a calling. It is a calling that our lives are about more than money and self-gratification.
For some billionaires, their paid minions, and their political soldiers to attack public school teachers shows just how much they want to dismantle our public school system in favor of their narrow interests. Our teachers work hard every day. But this doesn't surprise us here in Helena-West Helena. We have been on the butt end of the bashing by those that seek to make our public schools look bad so that more students will leave HWHSD, Barton, and Marvell to increase the financial coffers of that quasi-private charter high school on Missouri Street and its companion campuses on Cherry.
More bills are to follow. Apparently, speakers at the conference anticipate legislation to give vouchers for those sending their kids to private school. This would mean you could take government money anywhere from Pulaski Academy to West Memphis Christian and Little Rock Christian to Marvell Academy. Think of all the taxpayer dollars that will be expended to divert money to private schools. What parts of government would be cut to pay for all those children in private schools that the state isn't paying for now?
Pay attention to who is pushing this agenda. We had a Bush in town to speak today. Wal-Mart money has been heavily behind this, funding an entire department at the University of Arkansas to push the charter school agenda, which they dub "education reform." Can these Arkansas equivalents of the 19th century robber barons buy enough clout to get this done? We will know over the next 90 days. Call your legislator if you believe in public schools and tell him or her to stand up for our schools and stop this push to raid the state treasury for the charter schools which serve the few at the expense of the many.