Tag Archives: Arkansans for Education Control

Wealthy White Elites Attacking Little Rock School District

2 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/2/2019

In an apparent reaction to the 2014 school board election, new Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and the state of Arkansas assumed stewardship of Little Rock School District (LRSD). A law passed January 28, 2015 authorizing the takeover requires the state to give control back to Little Rock voters by January, 2020. New racially motivated proposals hearkening back to the days of openly racist governor, Orville Faubus, ensure minority residents lose their democratic rights. Big money from the Waltons – The world’s wealthiest family – is driving privatization and segregation within LRSD.

A leading Little Rock community activist, Reverend Anika Whitfield, said in an interview, “The Governor, the Attorney General and the state legislature are all controlled by the Walton family.” In 2016 when new Superintendent Mike Poore came to Little Rock from Bentonville, Arkansas (headquarter of the Walton family), Whitfield was suspicious and asked him about his relationship with Walmart’s owners. He replied, “I know you all are apprehensive; I don’t even know Jim Walton.”

Driving Corporate Education Reform in Little Rock

Littls Sis Map Attacking Little Rock Schools

Little Sis Map Showing Leaders of the Attack on LRSD

In 2007, Arkansans for Education Reform (AFER) was established in Bentonville, Arkansas. AFER files taxes under IRS rule 501 C3 which means it is categorized as a charity. In 2013, Arkansas Learns was founded in Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Learns files taxes as a 501 C6 organization which means it claims to be a profession service organization. Both types of organizations are tax exempt. Individuals can receive a tax deduction when contributing to a 501 C3 organization like AFER but the organization is prohibited from supporting a particular political candidate or engaging in lobbying activities. A 501 C6 organization is a professional business entity that can use the dues it receives to lobby but the contributions are not tax deductible.

The Little Sis map above shows total donations of $845,769 for 2016 and 2017 going to the 501 C3, AFER. Later, AFER grants $465,000 to Arkansas Learns plus it pays Gary Newton, $477,920 in salary over the same two years. The forms identify Newton as the AFER Executive Director working 40 hours a week which makes him the unpaid President and CEO of Arkansas Learns. If Newton’s salary is included; AFER sent more money to Arkansas Learns than its total receipts for 2016 and 2017.

Is this a tax scam claiming charity tax breaks for money intended for political purposes?

Starting from the top of the map and working counterclockwise the following is a brief bio of these Arkansas elites pushing their school privatization agenda:

William T. Dillard III is the grandson of department store founder William T. Dillard. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas and is Vice President of Dillards Inc. which has 330 stores in 28 states.

Jim Walton is one of the leaders of the World’s wealthiest family. He is cited by Barons as the 10th Wealthiest person in the world. Walton lives in Bentonville, Arkansas and serves on the Walmart Board of directors.

Walter Hussman is Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is President & CEO of WEHCO Media, Inc. Hussman is a third-generation newspaperman. His father was publisher of the Camden News, and his grandfather was publisher of the Texarkana Gazette. From his home in Little Rock, Hussman controls 13 daily newspapers, 11 weekly newspapers and 13 cable television companies in six states.

Claiborne Deming’s grandfather was Charles H. Murphy Sr., a South Arkansas banker, timberland owner and oilman who started Murphy Oil. In 1994, Deming became the CEO of Murphy Oil. In a business relationship with Walmart, Murphy built gasoline stations and small convenience stores on Supercenter parking lots. This business became a publicly-traded company with over 1,400 sites across the South and Midwest.

Randy Zook is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. For 34 years, he worked for Atlantic Envelope Company of Atlanta, Georgia, serving as President and CEO of the company from 1989 to 2004. He is on the boards of KIPP Schools in Helena-West Helena. His wife, Diane Zook is Chairperson of the Arkansas State Board of Education.

Gary Newton is former executive vice president of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was recruited by Luke Gordy, founding executive director of AERF, to create and become the first president and CEO of what has become Arkansas Learns. Upon Gordy’s retirement, he also assumed management responsibility for AERF. Gary’s aunt is Arkansas State School Board Chairperson, Diane Zook.

It is noteworthy that the four influential businessmen supporting AERF and Arkansas Learns are white winners of the lucky sperm lottery.

Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times gives a peek into how these wealth men’s ideas are spread. On September 9, he wrote,

“The Democrat-Gazette, both in its news and editorial columns, has become a reliable platform for Newton and so-called “choice” advocates. (Still no mention in that newspaper of some groundbreaking writing by UA school reformers about the inadvisability of state takeovers of public school districts, the failure in Arkansas’s management of LRSD being a case in point.)

“But back to Newton. The D-G identifies him only as executive director of Arkansas Learns. There, he lobbies for the business community on education issues. Its directors, the newspaper did not mention, include Walter Hussman, publisher of the Democrat-Gazette ….”

Some of Newton’s ideas carried in the Democrat-Gazette include killing the last remaining teachers bargaining unit in the state; leaving the state in control of hiring and firing school superintendents; putting the state in control of schools judged as failures by standardized testing; and one proposal was to divide the Little Rock School District into three autonomous districts — central, southwest and west. Brantley says, “You might as well call them the black, brown (Latino) and white districts.”

“Those People Can’t Be in Charge.”

Historian Barclay Key moved to Little Rock in 2012 with his wife and three school aged children. In 2013, he felt the board member for his zone was unacceptable and got involved in the coming election. The candidate he supported was a teacher named, Tara Shephard, who worked with at risk children. She along with a new candidate in another zone, C. E. McAdoo, won their seats. The following year Key’s colleague at University of Arkansas Little Rock, Jim Ross, won a seat as did Joy Singer.

Key wrote,

“The seven-member board now had four black representatives and a strong white ally in Jim. Democracy was working for people who were committed to improving our schools, and the newest members took their seats in October.” (Emphasis added.)

“But the gods of white supremacy must be appeased. Despite the LRSD board’s plans for the future and full cooperation with the state, on January 28, 2015, the state board of education voted 5-4 to take over the entire LRSD on the pretense that six of our forty-eight schools were in ‘academic distress.”’ (All five yes voters had been appointed by Democrat Mike Beebe.)

“One cannot possibly overlook the state’s role in suppressing black political power and local white elites supporting that suppression. Even though students in the LRSD have been majority black for forty years, a white majority controlled the school board until 2006. We had a democratically elected board with three new black members and a strong white ally. The state board of education replaced our democratically elected board with Tony Wood, the white state education commissioner. He literally had no specific plans for the LRSD or the “academically distressed” schools, outside of what was already occurring.”

Little Rock School Desegregation 1957

Eight of the Little Rock Nine at Central High School 1957 (AP File Photo)

Nearly 80% of the 25,000 students enrolled in Little Rock public schools are students of color. 62% are black, 15% are Hispanic and 19% are white. That is a big change from the 100% white schools that existed in 1957. Responding to the Supreme Court decision Brown versus the Board of Education, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st airborne to escort nine brave children past Governor Orville Faubus and a mob of angry white supremacists into the halls of Central High School. However, the present efforts to abrogate minority voting rights are causing citizens of south Little Rock to refer to their governor as Asa “Faubus” Hutchinson.

In 2014 when minority communities elected a majority-minority voting block to the LRSD board, calls started coming for the state to take over the district. The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, Jay Chessir, joined with school Board member, Leslie Fisken, in demanding the state take action. Walter Hussman’s Democrat-Gazette ran editorials calling for a state takeover of LRSD. The stated reason for the take-over was that six of the forty-eight district schools were in “academic distress.” Fisken, who is white, had also charged that the new board was dysfunctional.”

Since the state took control of the LRSD, KUAR, Little Rock Public Radio, reports that there has been little observable improvement. Reporter Daniel Breen observed, “Since 2015, the metrics for determining the letter grade schools received has changed, but the number of “F” rated schools has jumped from six to eight.”

According to state law, school districts taken over for “academic distress” must be returned within five years. The state must come up with criteria for the schools to meet before the transition and if the criteria are not met there are three options; consolidate, annex or reconstitute the district. Lawyer Ali Nolan says annex and consolidate are out because of ongoing desegregation lawsuits in neighboring districts. That leaves reconstitution but that already happened in Little Rock when the state took control. Therefore, the meaning of reconstitution in Little Rock is not clear.

The KUAR report continued,

“The district will reach that five-year mark in January, but the state only set the exit criteria last February. The criteria, based on results of the ACT Aspire test, weren’t met last spring.”

Based on the results of one standardized test that does not measure school or teaching quality, the Arkansas State Board of Education seems to be trying to avoid returning democratic control of LRSD. At a September meeting, they proposed giving Democratic control over schools not in rated ‘F’ which meant that white north Little Rock could democratically run their schools but majority-minority south Little Rock could not. The immediate adverse reaction caused the board to pull this plan back. Breen noted, “Many drew comparisons to school segregation, which Little Rock Central High was infamously at the center of in 1957.”

Now the state board has issued a new plan. Olivia Paschal reporting for Facing South notes,

“Though the board abandoned the initial plan to keep some schools under state control, the new draft plan gives the state board power to approve the district’s superintendent, stipulates that the teachers’ union not be recognized as a bargaining agent, and requires state Department of Education approval over the district’s budget.

“’We decided at that point we needed to take a stand for our kids,’ Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the 1,800-member teachers’ union, told Facing South. ‘Our members authorized us to do whatever was necessary up to and including a strike. At this point it’s clear that they intend to resegregate our district and use our kids as pawns.’”

Conclusion

Little Rock is fighting against a long history of white supremacy and racism. January 2020 could be a pivotal time for throwing off the yoke of discrimination. Having children of both financial and racial disparities integrated into the same school is best for all students rich, poor, black, brown or white. Democracy is the path of American governance that made it the world’s leading country and oligarchs opposing that path must be stopped. Will Arkansas embrace the light of locally controlled public education or the darkness of racism and white supremacy?