Wednesday, April 12, 2017


©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
April 12, 2017

According to the advertising campaign for the proposed May 9 millage extension ballot measure, the proposal to refinance an existing bond measure and extend it fourteen more years is about upgrading school buildings for children who attend Little Rock School District (LRSD) schools.  That campaign is a deception aimed at getting students, teachers, and principals to talk parents into voting for the millage extension.  Now I’ll share what students, teachers, principals, parents, and LRSD voters are not being told – and don’t want you to know – by LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, and the business and political insiders who are peddling the millage and paying for the advertising campaign.   

The Arkansas General Assembly, with active urging from Johnny Key and assent (if not advocacy) from Governor Hutchinson, passed a law (Senate Bill 308/now Act 542 of 2017) during the recently-concluded legislative session.  Act 542 of 2017 allows property (including buildings) of public schools in districts that have been taken over by the state to be leased to charter school organizations.  Here is a link to the new law:
Charter school organizations, therefore, are authorized by state law to operate from public school buildings that have been designated as "under-utilized."  Passage of the millage refinancing measure will put hundreds of millions of dollars (some estimate as much as $600 million) in Key's hands that he can use to improve “under-utilized” public school buildings leased for charter schools and pay operating costs – including salaries – for the charter schools. 

As Max Brantley recently observed in an Arkansas Times column, the May 9 millage refinancing ballot does not specify which schools the LRSD will improve.  Commissioner Johnny Key will, as the de facto governing official for the LRSD, decide how the money will be spent, direct Michael Poore where to spend it, when to spend it, and how much to spend for what purposes.

Now recall that Michael Poore decided several months ago to close Franklin and Wilson Elementary Schools, close the Hamilton Learning Academy, and “re-purpose” the Woodruff Early Childhood Center.  Poore made that decision despite strong objections from parents, students, and teachers associated with those schools.  Each of the four schools is located south of Interstate 630 and east of Shackelford Road.  Each of those schools serves student populations that are predominantly black and brown.   

Mind you, part of the deferred maintenance and capital improvements issue that Michael Poore talks about is because money from the existing millage is being diverted – now – for operations (including salaries such as the $225,000 annual salary that Key extended last week to Poore for another two years). 

What Poore, Key, and the backers of the May 9 millage measure don’t want voters to know is that charter school companies aim to lease "under-utilized" public school buildings in "good ole boy" crony deals struck with Johnny Key.  The charter school companies then can lobby Key and the State Board of Education to have their operations funded by the millage Poore and the business community is urging voters to extend.  This means that charter school companies will essentially be capitalized by LRSD taxpayers.  That fund diversion will not benefit LRSD students, teachers, and staff members.  It certainly won’t help the LRSD provide a free, equal, and adequate education to every public school student in well maintained and attractive buildings.  

The January 28, 2015 state takeover of the LRSD was a power grab.  Act 542 of 2017 is the building and facilities grab.   The May 9 millage measure is a $600 million bank heist that will permit Key can funnel millions of tax dollars paid by LRSD property owners to charter school management companies supported by Walton Family Foundation and other charter school champions.  This has already happened in New Orleans and other places. 

The May 9 millage ballot must be defeated if we hope to preserve any sensible notion of public education in the LRSD.  If the charter school lobby can control the Arkansas Board of Education and Education Commissioner (as it apparently does), and if Commissioner Johnny Key can control how public education is provided in the LRSD (as he does), then the only issue left is how charter school operators can acquire buildings and operating revenue to operate. 

LRSD students, teachers, staff members, parents, and voters aren’t being told the well-documented truth that charter school management companies are bankrolled by hedge funds!   I’m pasting an article that explains what a hedge fund is and how that investment strategy works.  A hedge fund is an investment fund, meaning a pool of money put together by a limited number of wealthy people and managed by their handsomely paid investment advisor, to bankroll businesses the manager and investors expect will produce large profits with less regulatory oversight than mutual funds.  For years, the Walton Family Foundation has been a leading force in a national effort to entice hedge funds to invest in charter school management companies, the businesses that operate charter schools.  Here’s a link to an article about that effort.  

A $600 million dollar bond fund produced by taxes paid by homeowners in the LRSD would be a handsome investment for a hedge fund, especially when investors know that the Arkansas Board of Education and Commissioner Johnny Key are keen about approving charter school applications, turning over “under-utilized” public school buildings for use as charter schools, and have control over how the LRSD is governed.  The charter schools would be more likely to be profitable if Johnny Key can direct LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore to lease “under-utilized” public school buildings to charter school companies and use money from the May 9 millage extension to make capital improvements to the “under-utilized” school buildings.  And if money from the current millage can be “diverted” from capital improvements to fund Michael Poore’s salary, who believes Johnny Key won’t use it to underwrite operation costs for charter schools run by hedge fund-backed charter school companies?  

Now you know why local business people are determined to suppress voter turnout in black and brown neighborhoods where they expect opposition to the May 9 millage ballot measure to be high.  Investment bankers will make fees from the refinancing of the existing millage.  Hedge fund managers will make handsome fees because of the charter school investments.  Charter school companies will attract more investors because of the $600 million bond fund, coupled with the recent disclosure that Governor Asa Hutchinson and Commissioner Johnny Key will not allow the Board of Education to schedule a vote on returning the LRSD to local control.  And the wealthy people who invest in hedge funds will get favorable tax advantages from the money they earn from charter school profits.  These players don’t want to take the risk that black, brown, and fair-minded white LRSD voters will vote down a $600 million corporate welfare scheme destined to generate billions of dollars in coming years for charter school lobbyists, their management companies, and hedge fund investors and managers. 

Supporters of the May 9 millage ballot measure want you to think this vote is about producing better buildings for students of the LRSD.  That’s why you see pictures of black, brown, and white children on their campaign material.  They don’t want the parents of those children to vote, but would rather pimp the children on their campaign literature so wealthy investors in charter schools can reap huge profits that will receive favorable tax advantages.  

The May 9 millage is about hedge fund investors like the Walton Family Foundation and other billionaires.  That’s why millage supporters are suppressing voter turnout in neighborhoods where black, brown, and lower income white children live and attend school.  They’re pimping images of our children to promote the millage extension so they can take our tax dollars to the bank.  Vote AGAINST the May 9 millage!

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