We the People: Are our public schools being threatened?

By Clark Hopper

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on public schools versus private schools. Now that the Arkansas 89th General Assembly is in session, I am going to revisit this issue. Educators and parents are on the same team, we are all accountable for student success and need to be a united front, putting students at the center of reform and education.
The Independent Charter School Commission HB 1040 remains on the House Education Committee agenda, waiting for the completion of a fiscal impact statement from the Bureau of Legislative Research, concerning the cost of the measure. It is our responsibility as voters to take action and question our legislators, before they make their decisions on HB 1040. This is the most important issue the Arkansas General Assembly will vote on this year for the future of our public schools and our children’s future! Does it make sense to divide and weaken our public schools? Why would they vote to take taxpayer dollars away from public schools and give those dollars (vouchers) to private schools at the expense of our children? Why would they give public school funds to private schools, who are allowed to choose which students they want while turning their backs on others? Why would they give your tax dollars to private schools, whose teachers do not have to be certified? Why are they supporting the wishes of businessmen, who most likely have business degrees to make money, instead of education degrees? Why aren’t they discussing private schools that fail and close down every year in Arkansas? Parents have always had the option to send their children to private schools if they wish, as long as they pay for it. Just do not ask parents who support public schools to pay for it with their tax dollars! Do not let them pull the wool over your eyes; this is all about money, not education!
Meanwhile, a new bill concerning charter schools is being drafted. It appears the lobbying and organizing of Governor Beebe and the broad based coalition of educators, school boards, community activists and other advocates for children and families has at least stalled the bill for the present.
There is a move under way to promote something called the “Parent Trigger,” as a way to reform schools. It is another one of those deceptive schemes, whose purpose is to undermine public education. In 2010, the California state legislature passed the “Parent Empowerment Act.” commonly known as the “Parent Trigger.” It allows a majority of parents in a low performing school to sign a petition, sometimes secretly, leading to various sanctions for the school: firing all or some of the staff, turning the school over to charter management, or closing the school. These are similar to options in the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. All of them are punitive, none are supportive of changing the school for the better and none have a shred of evidence to show it will improve the school. Neither the “Parent Trigger” nor the federal SIG program offers any constructive alternatives to unhappy parents, only ways to punish the school for low scores. Supporters of the “Parent Trigger” say it empowers parents and gives them a tool to change their school.
Consider who created the “Parent Trigger.” The promoter of the legislation was a group called Parent Revolution, funded by charter school operators and by The Walton Foundation, The Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. Parent Revolution is what is known as an “Astroturf” group, an organization pretending to be representative of ordinary parents, but actually promoting a charter agenda. The “Parent Trigger” should be recognized for what it is, a secret attack on public education!
Parents must be engaged in their children’s education and school in order for their child’s public school education to be successful. We need sustainable solutions. It’s time to make smart investments: smaller classes; increased access to high quality preschool; expanded after school and summer programs; stronger parent, community, student and school partnerships; up to date textbooks, computers and classes like history, art, PE and music. We are all accountable for student success. For educators, that means reaching and motivating every student. For Parents, that means instilling values of respect, responsibility and a love of learning. For elected officials, it means providing students and teachers with the tools and resources they need to get the job done!
We in Saline County are blessed to have great public schools and educators, let’s be sure and keep it that way. The outcome of this issue will have a tremendous impact on the future of our children. Contact Representative Anne V. Clemmer from Saline County, a member on the Arkansas House Education Committee about HB 1040 at 501-316-0364 or avclemmer@sbcglobal.net. Speak up for public schools now, before it is too late!
This column is not based on my opinion alone; it includes available internet and news media information.

Clark Hopper is a resident of Saline County. His column appears each Saturday in The Saline Courier.