Protesters peacefully shut down four Walmarts in Little Rock today. Here’s why…


LITTLE ROCK – Protesters peacefully shut down four Walmart stores in Little Rock today. I headed to the Bowman location after learning that the first wave of participants had managed to close down the store just a few hours after it opened this morning.

This is what I saw.


Empty parking lot. Police blocking access. Puzzled would-be patrons pulling out in a long line.

I pulled up alongside a cop who was chatting with employees. “Is the store closed?” I asked.

“Yes,” the officer said.

“Did something happen?” I pressed.

“Oh, no. It was a corporate decision,” she replied.

So I headed to the next location:  Highway 10.

There, too, protesters managed to shut down the store in short order. What did it look like?

Well, first the group marched in front of the store. Then it formed a line, taking care not to block entrances or exits. And then everyone gathered on the crosswalk, facing down the LRPD patrol cars that arrived.

Here’s some video I shot when police arrived:

Even after the store closed and started refusing customers entry, a line of protestors remained in the crosswalk. Police officers stationed themselves much as they had at Bowman, blocking cars from driving in front of the store.

Onward to the Shackleford Walmart. Rinse. Repeat.

That, my friends, is how a group of like-minded people can shut down four packed-out Walmarts efficiently and peacefully.

But why? Why close Walmarts? 

To these anguished pleas, I offer this by way of explanation.

Because the Waltons need to understand that it’s time to relinquish their iron-clad grip on the state of Arkansas, on its economy, and on its public schools.

I worked for three years for a Walton-funded “nonprofit” organization called the Arkansas “Public” School Resource Center. If you scroll down this blog, you will find numerous posts about how APSRC operates. Its mission is to destabilize, deconstruct and resegregate public schools. It also is working with other Walton nonprofits to create a private-school voucher system in Arkansas.

The Waltons have put themselves, their politics, and their wealth above what is good for all Arkansans.

So here we are, in the midst of a pandemic and the Waltons are using this public-health crisis and the resulting school closures to retain and even strengthen their control over the Little Rock School District.

And guess who the governor tapped to oversee the hasty reopening of businesses even as the number of cases continue to rise? A Walton. Steuart Walton. You can tell that Lil’ Stewie is doing a bang-up job of keeping businesses open. Never mind that the number of hospitalizations and deaths are rising at such a rate to attract national attention.

So why shut down Walmarts? Because right now, Black Lives Matter protesters have momentum. And while they remain focused on black victims of police force and violence, they also realize that this is the time to tackle other areas in which race determines who gets ahead in Arkansas and who doesn’t.

Protesters shut down Walmarts because those stores symbolize everything that is wrong in Arkansas for those who are marginalized and oppressed.

Here’s a couple of videos of respected black Little Rock leaders explaining how the Walmartization of Arkansas has hurt minorities, the poor, our K-12 students and our communities.

After these women spoke, everyone headed to the Walmart on Baseline Road. As I pulled in, a man leaving the store paused to tell me it was closed. I parked and got out to confirm. Sure enough, employees were turning away would-be shoppers. As I passed a pickup truck, I overhead its occupant, a woman, telling a man that the store was closing.

“Why?” he asked.

“The protesters are coming,” she said.

Yet another red flag concerning ADE and APSRC’s proposed digital provider

By CATHY FRYE – So even as Arkansas prepares to partner with Lincoln Learning Solutions – a Pennsylvania-based company under investigation for ripping off taxpayers – said company is bleeding employees.

According to a May 29, 2020, story in the Ellwood City Ledger, Lincoln Learning Services laid off HALF of its staff just a few weeks ago.

And yet this is the organization that the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas “Public” School Resource Center has selected to help with anticipated “blended learning” during the 2020-2021 school year. As in, Lincoln Learning Solutions would offer online courses. Yikes.

Per the newspaper story:

More than one-third of the staff at Lincoln Learning Solutions were laid off Friday.

The nonprofit education services company — which has ties to Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School and the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School — laid off 122 employees, including 76 full-time, 12 part-time and 34 temporary workers, said Christina Zacek, director of communications for the company.

“It is with a heavy heart that Lincoln Learning Solutions acknowledges the layoff of 122 employees,” Zacek said. “After having lost a multi-million dollar contract, we closely reviewed our budget and determined we could no longer afford to maintain a significant number of our employees — even after initiating substantial cuts and adjustments. Cutting jobs was a last and difficult choice.”

Zacek called the decision “a punch to the gut.” Lincoln Learning recently signed a new contract with PA Cyber that resulted in a multi-million dollar loss of revenue, she said. The company had been rearranging its finances and trimming its budget after the loss of revenues. Parking contracts and leases were terminated, and additional business contracts were added, but that wasn’t enough to make up the difference she said.

While based in Rochester, the majority of Lincoln Learning’s employees are remote. In total, 84 of those laid off are from western Pennsylvania, including 43 in Beaver County, 23 in Allegheny County, 14 in Butler County and one in Lawrence County. An additional 11 employees in Ohio, just over the border from Midland, were laid off.

Here’s a link to the full story.

And here’s some background:

APSRC and the Arkansas Department of Education are endorsing a digital learning provider that is currently under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Auditor General’s Office.

Why an investigation? Because a five-year audit revealed that Lincoln Learning Solutions had received more than $110 million in taxpayer dollars.  Now, Arkansas’ parents and schools are about to get sucker-punched in a similar fashion. 

Parents. Ask questions. Play hardball. Be an advocate for your children. None of this is acceptable.

Beware of APSRC and ADE’s “AR Ready for Digital Learning” for the 2020-2021 School Year

By CATHY FRYE – I got curious and took a little gander today at the Arkansas Public School Center’s website. And yep, there it was – APSRC’s latest attempt to help its digital “learning” providers by – once again – taking advantage of the pandemic’s effects on public schools.

Pay attention, folks: This partnership – announced today – involves the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, the Arkansas Department of Education and an outfit known as Lincoln Learning Solutions. This partnership will affect how public schools operate during the 2020-2021 school year.

APSRC and the Arkansas Department of Education are endorsing a digital learning provider that is currently under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Auditor General’s Office.

Why an investigation? Because a five-year audit revealed that Lincoln Learning Solutions had received more than $110 million in taxpayer dollars.  Now, Arkansas’ parents and schools are about to get sucker-punched in a similar fashion. 

You can also be sure that someway, somehow, APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith will also


APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith, aka Destroyer of Public Education

find a way to profit from this. Smith does not believe in MOUs that offer no benefit to his Walton-backed  empire – er, I mean, “non-profit” organization.

I dealt with digital-provider “representatives” – not educators but salesmen – for three years. They expected free vendor booths at each APSRC conference. They also expected to be wined and dined on APSRC’s tab. Initially, they got what they wanted via a grant awarded to APSRC’s teaching and learning department. But when the money ran out, they still expected to be wooed and catered to. And Smith didn’t seem to mind, which tells me that APSRC also was making money by supporting these digital providers.

APSRC has been trying for years – well before my time there – to sell this digital-learning crap to Arkansas schools. Problem is, this crap, aside from being crap, has been too pricey even for the better-off districts.

And yet here they go again. Per APSRC’s “AR Ready for Digital Learning” webpage.

APSRC, in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education and Lincoln Learning Solutions, is launching a statewide online learning plan to serve all Arkansas schools for the 2020-21 school year.  This pilot program provided at no cost to schools includes:

  • School staff can enroll their students, grades K-12, in Lincoln Learning online courses using the registration process that will soon be made available.
  • Course content is accessed from Lincoln’s Learning Management System (LMS) or can be uploaded onto a school’s own licensed LMS if compatible.
  • In addition to videos and documents available to train teachers on how to use the courses, webinars will be announced soon (and recorded for future viewing). Also, there will be on-site training available for teachers from both Lincoln and APSRC staff.
  • Teachers will be given access to a vast digital library on the Lincoln LMS (Buzz) that will serve as a resource for searchable content/learning objects (specific instructions will be included in the teacher training)
  • An informational webinar will be available at 1:30 pm, Wednesday, June 10. Topics will include:
    • Program details and overview
    • Training schedule and options
    • Registration process and timeline
  • More information about webinars and training will be posted soon.
  • Information about Lincoln Learning, including course catalogs, sample course schedules, and teacher training materials and videos can be found via this link:

The term “pilot program” is your first clue that this will not go well. Remember the virtual-learning pilot program, known as TechStart? Remember the Summit Learning pilot program? Remember all the hoopla? Remember the complaints that followed? Heard anything about these programs in the past year?

But let’s take a moment to focus on Lincoln Learning Solution’s shady practices so that we know what to ask when we make the obvious calls to our public-education leaders.

According to the Beaver County Times, State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale had this to say in a story posted on April 17, 2019:

“My audit of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School found that more than $110 million of taxpayer money the school received was going directly to Lincoln Learning Solutions for curriculum services which were repeatedly delayed,” DePasquale said in a release Wednesday. “I want to see how much public funding this nonprofit receives, how much of it is spent on helping students, and how much goes to salaries and administrative costs.”

Based on recent IRS forms, a substantial amount of Lincoln Learning Solutions’ revenues are from PA Cyber, DePasquale said.

“Taxpayers deserve a full accounting of every education dollar going to this nonprofit corporation,” he said, noting that his office is requesting documents from Lincoln Learning. “I want to ensure that every available taxpayer dollar is going into the classroom, where it can most help students.”

The story went on to offer a little background:

Lincoln Learning Solutions, which was formed in 2005, develops online curriculum for institutions such as the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. It was formerly known as the National Network of Digital School and was founded by former PA Cyber head Nick Trombetta.

Here’s a link to the news release issued by the state auditor general that same day.

According to a Sept. 22, 2016, story by the Ellwood City Ledger, the five-year audit revealed eight troubling issues:


  • The board and administration failed to govern transactions involving millions of dollars, some of which “may have” violated the charter school law and state ethics act.
  • PA Cyber leadership neglected to properly oversee curriculum and management services provided by the National Network of Digital Schools, the Rochester-based company created by Trombetta to provide curriculum to PA Cyber that has since rebranded itself as Lincoln Learning Solutions (LLS).
  • PA Cyber’s deal with another Trombetta-created entity, the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, on a pre-paid lease and subsequent lease conversion was “fiscally irresponsible” and “a poor use of public funds” that cost PA Cyber $1.4 million in interest payments.
  • PA Cyber “may have” improperly provided college tuition reimbursements of about $32,000 for former board President Dave Jaskiewicz’s daughter, who was a PA Cyber student at the time. (The state ethics commission did not pursue the matter.)
  • There were possible ethical violations and conflicts of interest when PA Cyber’s board approved a $1.8 million contract with a computer services company owned by one of the board members.
  • PA Cyber failed to monitor its virtual classroom attendance from 2011 to 2016.
  • PA Cyber’s poor document management, overseen by LLS at the time, led to incomplete and missing teacher evaluations.
  • Laptops given to students were not collected when those students left PA Cyber or graduated.


I’ve been unable to find updates on the state auditor’s probe. Regardless, the Arkansas Department of Education, APSRC, with, I’m sure, Governor Asa Hutchinson’s blessing, have decided that profit matters more than public education, even when it’s the taxpayers paying for “services” they don’t want for their students.

Lincoln Learning Solutions issued a news release today announcing its partnership. ADE Secretary Johnny Key is quoted.

“This is a natural partnership and we are ready to get their schools access to the digital content they need to be back open in August under as normal of circumstances as possible, which is one of their governor’s goals,” Bob Clements, Lincoln Learning Solutions CEO, said.

In presenting the details of the initiative to its 1,054 public schools, Commissioner of


Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key, who doesn’t have a background in education

Education, Johnny Key, told teachers and administrators that, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Arkansas made a seamless transition, even though it may not have felt that way.

Arkansas was definitely ahead of the pack. We know we’ve missed some things…but I think it’s also important that we focus on what we’ve learned that will help us do better and be better prepared, and more nimble in meeting the needs of all students in the future,” Keys said.

During the presentation, Division of Secondary and Elementary Education officials said they expect all districts to move to some type of blended-learning system, which would include a learning management system, digital content aligned to grade-level standards, access to devices, and connectivity to support synchronous or asynchronous learning. Officials said schools that already had a blended-learning system in place were able to adapt much faster than schools that didn’t.

Here is the press release in full.

Call your school districts. Reach out to your school boards. Make sure your teachers and admins are informed. I plan to share this tonight with the North Little Rock School District leadership. Ask journalists to look into Lincoln Learning’s background. Make your voices heard. 



Those who are dying of COVID-19 don’t need a crowd of mourners at their bedsides

I posted on Facebook recently about how my own near-death experience changed my views on the process of dying. Some of you asked that I expand and elaborate on this topic. So here we go …

In October 2013, my husband and I set out on what was supposed to be a day hike – one like the many we had enjoyed in the past. We ended up sojourning into hell.

If you want to read the entire story, click here. But please bear in mind that my views on what happened to us have dramatically changed since I wrote this series for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

.In short, I ended up spending five days and four nights in the Chihuahuan Desert, right on the Texas-Mexico border.

Rick and I began our hike on October 2, 2013. That night, instead of grilling brats and drinking beer, we found ourselves unexpectedly stranded on a cliff that overlooked a spectacularly beautiful canyon.

By the end of Day 2, we had, thankfully, found a spring under a stand of cottonwoods.

On Day 3, I told my husband to leave me because I could no longer walk.

Please know that up until this point, I had been terrified of being left alone in the desert. My fears are what kept me going, plodding along behind my husband even as my physical condition deteriorated.

Even so, after realizing that I couldn’t go on any further, I finally crouched underneath a small mesquite shrub and told Rick to leave me.

Rick made it out that night and summoned help. But it would be another two days before search-and-rescue teams found me. At the hospital, I learned that by the time I was located, I was only a few hours from death. All of my organs had started shutting down.

Here’s the thing – I went from being scared of being alone in the wild to convincing my husband to leave me there.

Why? Because I was pretty sure that I was going to die and I did not want or need him there to witness my death.

I told him to tell our children, then 8 and 10, that I had done my damndest to get back to them. I hoped that by telling him to go, to leave me, that I would be ensuring that our kids had at least one parent raising them. I did, however, also hope that he would be able to get out and send help for me.

Rick made his way to the Big Bend Ranch State Park headquarters around 7:30 p.m. October 4, 2013.

I would be found around noon, two days and two nights later – on October 6, 2013.

What I’m about to do right now is describe my feelings about dying alone.

When I sat down under that shrub, I felt relief. I wanted Rick to go. I knew he stood a good chance of getting out. I knew that something was very wrong with my body and its condition. I could no longer walk. I couldn’t even remain standing.

I understood that I would probably die. Alone. And I spent a long Friday evening (October 4, 2013) reckoning with that after I convinced Rick to go.

I wanted to be alone to die. Even as I held out hope for Rick, I also wanted to do what needed to be done on my own. I didn’t want or need anyone to witness my suffering. I will remain forever convinced that dying is actually a very private endeavor.

Animals seek solitude when they are sick or near death. Native Americans are known to head out into the wild when they sense that their time is near.

After what happened to me in that desert, I am even more convinced that dying was never meant to be a group activity.

I lay under that shrub for two days and two nights. During that time, I was comforted by a variety of vivid hallucinations and storylines. Throughout the ordeal, I also understood at some deeper level that I was free to … leave. At any time. I wasn’t listening to family members begging me to “fight” or to “hold on.” And honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with such pleadings. I needed to be free to live or to die on my terms.

I hoped that my body would be found, yes. I wanted my family to have answers and to have remains to memorialize. But I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t feel alone. And I didn’t fret over the fact that my family members weren’t hovering over me, singing hymns, holding hands and murmuring apologies or sharing memories.

The thought of a crowd around my deathbed … well, I didn’t want that then and I don’t want it in the future.

I am sharing this in an attempt to offer comfort during this pandemic. I keep hearing people worry about their loved ones dying alone.

Your loved ones are fine. YOU are the ones who are having difficulty with the separations.

The whole deathbed gathering really only benefits those who are there to mourn the person who is about to depart this Earth. It’s a chance for family members to express regrets, offer apologies or to emphasize the love they feel for the loved one who is dying.

But your loved one? He or she is already in another place and time.

I am writing this to reassure you that your presence isn’t required when your beloved family member dies alone in a medical facility or at home.

Instead, focus your energies on those still in need of human contact. Call your grandparents or parents to chat. Send photos to that old family friend who has no living relatives. Be a companion to the living. Because the dying already have moved beyond us all.







A COVID-19 prison outbreak should be a concern for ALL Arkansans

Dear Governor and Secretary Smith:

I covered the Arkansas Department of Correction during many of my 15 years as a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

I later served as the public information officer and legislative liaison for ADC.

Both of those roles allowed me regular access to every state prison in Arkansas.

Which is why I am alarmed by your attempts to minimize the potential impact of inmate and staff COVID-19 infections on the state of Arkansas as a whole. 

Even if you’re comfortable with writing off the inmates – most of whom, it should be noted, were sentenced to prison terms, not death – what about the thousands of employees who work for ADC?

Yeah, you can keep describing the prison system as a “congregant setting,” but the fact is that it also is a fluid one.

Inmates get transferred all the time – from one prison unit to another, to new barracks within the same unit, to places where they have requested specific work assignments. I know this because during my time at ADC, my office handled constituent services. Many of the calls we received were from family members asking to which facility their loved ones had been most recently transferred.

And then there’s the staff. Wardens and correctional officers get promoted and transferred all the time. For example, some officers opt to go to the maximum-security units in order to collect the  hazardous-duty pay. Others may put in for a transfer to a unit closer to home.

All it will take to send the statewide numbers soaring is one asymptomatic staff member who decides to make a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Now let’s factor in the thousands of support staff – administrative assistants, record-keepers, researchers, the finance folks, the department heads and their many employees … and on and on and on.

Most of these staff members work in the prison units, not Central Office, which is located in Pine Bluff.

(Speaking of Central Office, guess who does all of the janitorial work, the yardwork and heavy manual lifting there? Inmates. They arrive each morning and depart in the evening.)

Anyway – so now let’s think about the thousands of ADC employees who go home to their communities after each workday. They shop at local stores, order from restaurants, go to the grocery and do all of the things that every other Arkansan does. That means they are in frequent contact with other members of their communities. Again, all it takes is one asymptomatic employee to bring a potentially deadly virus to his or her hometown.

I’m pretty sure you realize that this virus is going to spread to other prison units. And we know that this virus feeds on community spread.

Here’s the thing: Each prison is a community. And each prison will see staff and newly paroled inmates heading back to their free-world communities and hometowns.

That’s why you should care about what is happening at the Cummins Unit.

Oh, but wait – the potential for dire outcomes gets even worse.

ADC contracts with outside medical providers. Those nurses and doctors also are coming and going. They are testing and treating sick inmates each and every day – before heading home to their own communities.

And what about the EMTs who

are frequently called to prison units? Will it “count” if paramedics get COVID-19? Or are they exempt from the statewide tally because they may temporarily become a part of ADC’s “congregant setting” during emergencies?

And what about the medical staff at hospitals across the state? They also risk infection by treating inmates and ADC staff who require hospitalization during their battles with COVID-19. Do they count?

Guess who else gets called out to state prisons? Sheriff’s deputies and Arkansas State Police. These are the men and women who are transporting inmates from jails to prison units and vice versa. They also provide transport to and from court appearances.

Lastly, as I’m sure you are aware, ADC has its own school district, the Arkansas Correctional School. State prisons house classrooms and computer labs. Guess who is in and out of those classrooms and labs? Teachers. Administrators. Volunteers.

Do they count?

This virus knows no boundaries. It spreads from community to community – regardless of whether a community’s residents live in homes or prison units.

To say that ADC’s virus tallies should be considered “separately” from the statewide counts is a travesty.

You are telling thousands upon thousands of Arkansas families that their loved ones “don’t count” because they are incarcerated.

You are telling ADC staff that they “don’t count” because they may have caught the virus in a prison unit.

You are telling contracted medical providers, teachers, EMTs, sheriff’s deputies, ASP and hospitals scattered across the state that they shouldn’t worry because a virus outbreak in the prison system can be contained (ha!) and mitigated.

That is a slap in the face to all Arkansans. What’s happening in Cummins isn’t just a blip to be ignored. Rather, it is yet further proof that you are more concerned about messaging and spin than the health and safety of ALL Arkansans.

Shame on you.

COVID-19 in Pulaski County: Man-on-the Street Dispatches, Part 1


No one answered the door when I arrived at a Little Rock home Friday, March 13, 2020, to deliver prescription medications from a local pharmacy.

I called the intended recipient to ask if he wanted me to leave his order at the door.

“I’m over on Baseline!” he shouted jubilantly into his phone. “I found toilet paper over here!”

“It’s just pandemonium everywhere,” he continued. “I should have worn Kevlar. Lord have mercy!”

We chatted a few more minutes about his prized find before he agreed that I should leave his meds on the porch.

And then I got into my company vehicle – which now boasts a cylinder of Lysol wipes and a container of hand sanitizer (70 percent alcohol) in the cupholders (which normally are home to my Kum & Go cup of coffee and a can of sparkling water) – and headed off to make my next delivery.

I knew that Friday would be … interesting. Just the day before, I was at the Kroger on McCain in North Little Rock to buy dog food, cat food and kitty litter when my 17-year old daughter texted:

School is canceled for the next two weeks. And tomorrow. 

(She and her younger brother attend North Little Rock High School.)

Within 10 minutes, the throng of mid-day Kroger regulars exploded into a mass of panicked shoppers scurrying down the aisles.

Aside from my job as a pharmacy delivery driver, I also work as a certified caregiver. Because of my frequent and up-close-and-personal contact with seniors, I already had been stocking up my pantry, fridge and freezer for several weeks. I figured that doing so would allow me to stay away from public places, thereby somewhat lessening my chances of inadvertently infecting our most vulnerable population.

Still, I found myself swept along in the wave of panic, flinging much more than pet supplies into my cart. It took 40 minutes to check out. When I drove by later, around 4:30 p.m., the parking lot was packed.

Just that morning, one of my clients for whom I work as a caregiver informed the agency that as much as she loves me, she prefers to isolate herself at home for the time being. I didn’t blame her one bit. I already had feared the prospect of becoming the “COVID-19 Cathy of Pulaski County” and therefore told her that if she did discontinue my services, I wouldn’t suffer any hurt feelings.

And then a second client canceled an evening shift. OK, well her daughter did. That’s because a public-school event that the daughter was expected to attend had been canceled.

“I get it,” I said yet again. “No problem.”

Which is why I felt so very very validated Friday as I journeyed throughout Pulaski County.

I filled out virus-screening questionnaires, got my forehead scanned (97.7 degrees), and met nurses at the front entrances of locked-down nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Between deliveries, I wiped down the car’s interior, my pens, clipboard and phone with Lysol, doused my hands with sanitizer and stopped frequently at various gas stations to scrub my hands with soap.

This is what I observed today:

  • Nursing homes and other facilities that house or care for elders are restricting visits to immediate family members. They are screening staff, visitors and delivery drivers. At one longterm facility, a table loaded with coronavirus info had been placed in the entryway. (“We’re on lockdown,” one nurse informed me when I arrived with meds. “Totally get it,” I replied.)
  • Doctor’s offices, specialty clinics, etc… had very few people in their waiting rooms.
  • While grocery store parking lots remained at capacity, fast-food restaurants didn’t have the usual lines at their drive-throughs.
  • Pharmacies would prefer that you use the drive-through if you even remotely suspect that you might be ill.
  • Especially vulnerable nursing-home residents have been banned from dining halls and other public spaces at their facilities.
  • I am unable to hold my breath during a multi-floor elevator ride, despite my desire to protect those with whom I must interact.

And even as I delivered meds to seniors who are hunkered down at home or in longterm care facilities, I listened to the Trump & Pence show on NPR and most definitely did not feel like this situation is in competent hands where the federal government is concerned.

Rather, we will be saved by our communities, state officials, city and county officials, scientists, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who truly understand what we are up against.



Capitalism, GOP “messaging” and America’s flawed healthcare system are no match for COVID-19


In recent days, I’ve listened to umpteen news reports on the possible effects that COVID-19 will have on the markets and the economy. Media also have focused on the effects the virus will have on travel, conferences, and political rallies.

Arkansans: Let’s get real. Let’s talk about logistics and practicalities. Let’s talk about the people who stand to be affected.

I have a couple of part-time jobs that require me to interact daily with our most vulnerable populations – the elderly and those who suffer from serious medical conditions and/or compromised or deficient immune systems.

I take care of your elderly parents. I assist your grandparents. I do all of this up close and personal. I help them bathe. I help transfer them from wheelchairs to beds and from beds to wheelchairs. i help them use the restroom. I fix their meals and remind them to take their medications. And I consider all of this to be an honor.

They have taught – and continue to teach – me so much. Their stories and nuggets of wisdom are invaluable. I treasure the time I spend with them. Oftentimes, I feel as though they are helping me more than I am helping them.

I’m a certified caregiver. I also deliver medications to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and homebound seniors.

From what we’re hearing from the WHO and the CDC, a global pandemic is inevitable. And I’m going to be straight-up and brutally honest: America is not prepared to deal with it. Arkansas is not prepared to deal with it. Our healthcare system is more of a detriment than a benefit. The same is true where insurance companies are concerned.

GOP messaging: Oh, no worries! This virus only kills old and/or sick people. If you’re young and relatively healthy, you’ll be FINE!

OK, yeah, well, I, at age 50, might be “fine,” but what about my clients? What about the seniors residing in nursing homes?

Also? Since when is it OK to spin a potentially deadly virus as an inconvenience that might cause a little economic upheaval? Really? Seriously? When did we lose our compassion?

Shame on you. Shame on us. Shame on America and its politicians who refuse to see people as, well… people. 

I don’t give a damn as to how many fetuses you Republicans “save.” You are not “pro-life.” You cage immigrant children, refuse to give them vaccinations, and now you’re set on killing off our senior citizens.

So here is my message to those who have parents/grandparents in either a nursing-home or residential setting:

Call the nursing homes or home-care agencies and ask what plans they will implement once the virus arrives in Arkansas.

If your elder resides in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, ask about how potential quarantines will affect you and your loved one.

If your elder relies on caregivers who come to the home, make sure that your loved one’s home is fully stocked with non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, gloves, medications, etc…

Also, call the agencies that employ your caregivers and ask what sort of plans and policies they have in place. Ask what will happen in the event of quarantines.

Call the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Human Services and ask them what sort of plans and policies are in place.

(Answer: None.) But go ahead and call and pressure them to come up with … something.

Urge your state and federal elected officials to consider the fact that minimum-wage workers don’t get paid sick leave. Also, it costs thousands – even with insurance – to pay for a COVID-19 test. Translation: Caregivers, hotel workers, restaurant and fast-food workers, delivery people, etc… etc… are not going to want to call in sick. Why?

1. Who can afford a $3,000 test for a virus that doesn’t have any sort of treatment protocol? I mean, what’s the point?
2. Who can afford to request days off due to illness when your employer will require you to go to a doctor – a doctor who will charge you not only for the visit and a doctor’s note but also for your $3,000 COVID-19 test? I mean, if healthcare made any sort of sense, insurance companies would consider these tests to be a form of preventative medicine.
3. Who can afford a hospital stay if one is diagnosed with COVIDd-19? This is another reason that your average minimum-wage, hourly employee is not going to seek medical treatment.

This, my friends, is why our healthcare system is a failure. This is why we need to reconsider the profits made at our expense. This is why we need to pressure elected officials to be transparent. Right now, we keep hearing how all counties will be provided with testing equipment. Yeah, well, great, but I’m not going to go get tested knowing that I’ll be charged thousands of dollars for it. I’ll just self-quarantine myself and beg my employers to show mercy when it comes to doctors’ notes. Because really – if there’s no treatment or cure, why bother?

Don’t believe me? Do you really think that the state of Arkansas has a handle on this? Call the governor. Call the Department of Health. Call the Department of Human Services. Call nursing homes, home-health agencies and those who hire caregivers.

And then let me know just how safe and secure and “prepared” you feel.








Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – Part 8

Tonight, I am sharing a Who’s Who in the Arkansas education “reform” movement. 

First – a reminder: The end game is not charterization. It is privatization. Charter schools are merely a bridge. Look at them as place-holders.

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center, where I worked for three years as the communications director, purports to support both open-enrollment charter schools and rural traditional school districts. In actuality, APSRC is one of many Arkansas-based and Walton-funded lobbying entities.  Some of these organizations specialize in charters. Others exist to promote private schools and vouchers. One seeks to convince teachers that they don’t need to belong to unions. A couple others promote the alleged glories of school “choice.” 

Here’s a list of such organizations: 

Remember, Arkansas is not the only state being targeted by American billionaires who seek to do away with public education and those pesky teachers’ unions. The Waltons are among those leading the charge. Curious, isn’t it, that the Waltons and other billionaires who are supposedly concerned about education haven’t donated a dime to public schools. Instead, they’re focused on supporting charters and private schools. 

So let’s meet the Arkansas players –

Starting with the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, we’re going to look at its three boards: the Policy Board, the Charter School Advisory Board and the Rural Districts Advisory Board. The boards meet quarterly. 

Before each meeting, APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith requires that his loyal assistant (and resident spy) – office manager Lisa Walters – draft agendas for the three meetings. 

Once those agendas are in play, APSRC team leaders are required to attend at least two executive meetings to go over what will be said – or not said – during each meeting. 

Per the APSRC website, upon which I imported and/or drafted content, the Policy Board “is responsible for general oversight and policy development for APSRC. The members of the Policy Board represent a wealth of experience and wisdom in the areas of public education, business, and governmental policy-making.”

A “wealth of experience and wisdom” in matters pertaining to public education? Um. No.

The officers may have changed since I left APSRC, but according to the organization’s website, the players to whom APSRC staff reported remain the same: 

APSRC Policy Board

Chairman Mike Wilson, attorney and former Democratic state legislator (Yes, many a Democrat has succumbed to the lure of education “reform” – more on that in another post.) Wilson also currently serves as a member of the Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel. Conflict of interest maybe?

Vice-chair Ernest Cunningham, yet another former Democratic state lawmaker who at one point served as the Speaker of the House. Cunningham now works for The Perimeter Group, a lobbyist organization.

Secretary/Treasurer Diane Tatum, an Entergy retiree

Board member Dr. Trey Berry, President, Southern Arkansas University (SAU serves as APSRC’s grant-holder of Walton funding and also as APSRC’s HR department.)

Board member Dr. Fitz Hill, Arkansas State Board of Education member, appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson in July 2016; Director, Arkansas Baptist College Foundation; Director, Scott Ford Entrepreneurship and Community Development Center

Board member Senator Jim Hendren, Arkansas Senator Pro Tempore who serves on the Senate Education Committee

Board member Randy Lawson, Chairman and CEO of Lawco Energy Group

Board member Arkansas Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd 

Board member Sherman Tate,  President and CEO of Tate & Associates, a sports consulting firm

Board member Jim Walton, Walmart heir, Chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank (Intent on carrying out his deceased brother John’s desire to charterize and privatize America’s school systems.)

Randy Zook, President, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce (Married to pro-charter and embarrassingly uninformed Arkansas State Board Chairman Diane Zook.)

Board member Rob McGill, Ex-officio, Charter Advisory Board; Executive Director, Academics Plus Charter School

Board member Daryl Blaxton, Ex-officio, Rural Advisory Board; Superintendent, Pocahontas School District

Charter School Advisory Board

  • John Bacon, eStem Charter School
  • Linda Dawson, SIATech, Inc.
  • Steven Gast, Responsive Education Arkansas
  • Fatih Bogrek, LISA Academy
  • Mary Ley, Arkansas Arts Academy
  • Rob McGill (Chair), Academics Plus
  • Scott Shirey, KIPP Delta Preparatory School
  • Phillis Anderson, ScholarMade
  • Khori Whittaker, Lighthouse Academies
  • Joe Harris, Friendship Aspire 

Rural Districts Advisory Board

  • Billy Adams, Lakeside School District
  • Dr. Debbie Atwell, Mountainburg School District
  • Cody Beene, Nemo Vista School District
  • Sally Bennett, Rivercrest School District
  • Daryl Blaxton (Chair), Pocahontas School District
  • Dan Breshears, Centerpoint School District
  • Angie Bryant, Genoa Central School District
  • Joe Couch, Bergman School Districts
  • Kelvin Gragg, Dumas School District
  • Douglas Graham, Nashville School District
  • Bobby Hart, Hope School District
  • Rick Neal, Pea Ridge School District
  • Richard Page, Gravette School District
  • Roger Rich, Southside School District (Batesville)
  • David Rolland, Pangburn School District
  • Danny Sample, Harrisburg School District
  • Skipper Ward, Magnolia School District
  • Gary Williams, Crossett School District

Because of their involvement as APSRC board members, I can assure you that the members of the Rural Districts Advisory Board – which is composed of traditional public school superintendents – knows exactly what APSRC is up to. I can also tell you that these members have no problem with APSRC’s lobbying or other questionable activities. They actually think that their districts are “safe” from the Waltons. 

Not true. The Waltons aren’t looking to infiltrate districts with the goal of opening new charter schools. The Waltons – and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with the full support of Trump and the Republican party – want to do away with public education altogether. 

Arkansas superintendents who can’t seem to see the bigger picture are easily lured into APSRC’s net. 

Arkansas superintendents, I’m telling you right now that your APSRC membership will not protect you. It will not halt the Walton agenda. Your little school districts mean nothing to APSRC or the Waltons. Nothing. 

You serve only as their cover. That makes you appear not only pathetically naive but also recklessly unconcerned about the future of public education in Arkansas. Shame. On. You. Take a stand. Drop your membership. Look out for your schools and communities. 

APSRC sees you as silly little members who are willing to pay $2,500 a year (minimum) for the belief that you are now protected from the charter invasion. 

I see you as little lambs headed to market. My family raised sheep during my childhood. They were sweet animals, but sadly and appallingly stupid. 

Don’t be a sheep. Get in touch with Philip Young, director of the Arch Ford co-op. He’ll talk some common sense into you. Most of you don’t even like Smith. (I know this because you told me so.) So cut him off. As it is, his credibility with the Waltons is fading. 

OK, so let’s move on to some other controversial topics: 

  • Teacher salaries
  • Facilities funding
  • The Joint Education Committee’s unwillingness to increase Special Education Catastrophic Funding
  • The insistence on adhering to what makes a school “adequate” as opposed to “excellent”

Think of your teachers and the salary schedule. In his bid for re-election, Governor Asa Hutchinson sought to woo educators by promising teensy increases in teacher salaries. I heard the behind-the-scenes discussions, which is why I remain incredulous that so many educators fell for this scam. 

Now that we’re dwelling on the paltry salaries of Arkansas teachers, let’s take a look at what staff members at the Walton-funded Arkansas Public School Resource Center are earning (Full disclosure – I’m “Catherine McFarland.)

  • Brunell, Nathalie Finance Specialist 85,500
  • Burnett, Hazel Finance Specialist 95,790
  • Chance, Teresa Common Core Specialist 108,000
  • Hanlon, Kathleen Finance Specialist 100,000
  • Ketcham, Joanna Administrative Assistant 61,000
  • McFarland, Catherine Communications Director 74,675
  • McRae, Scott Finance Specialist 82,000
  • Rich, Kenneth Director of Finance Services 135,000
  • Saracini, Michael Instructional Technology Specialist 67,310
  • Smith, Daniel Executive Director 180,000
  • Todd, Lisa Director of Education 135,000
  • Walter, Alexis Staff Attorney 100,000
  • Walters, Lisa Office Manager 69,846
  • Wells, Jennifer Staff Attorney 61,800
  • Wells, Kendal Director of Technology 115,360
  • Williams, Jeana Assoc Dir of Education 93,500

APSRC Salary Grand Total: $1,564,781

This information is included in Southern Arkansas University’s 2018-19 annual report.

In conclusion, here’s the breakdown:

Governor Asa Hutchinson, who hails from Northwest Arkansas, is following marching orders issued by the Waltons. 

Remember, Hutchinson is the one who made it possible for a non-educator – former Senator Johnny Key – to become the Arkansas Department of Education’s commissioner. Sure, this appointment required a little tweak of the law, but hey – Key is a loyal Walton backer.

Meanwhile, Asa’s nephew, Senator Jim Hendren, who is on the Senate Education Committee, also is serving as a member of APSRC’s Policy Board. 

But wait – so is former lawmaker Jim Wilson, who also serves as a member of Arkansas’ Charter Authorizing Panel. 

My point is this – Arkansas Republicans have long been in cahoots with the Waltons. The state Senate and House education lawmakers most hostile to public schools are not only Republican but beholden to the Waltons. 

Your vote matters. And superintendents – your unwillingness to stand up to APSRC and the Walton Family Foundation will be the reason that privatization in education is made possible. 

Again – shame on you.

Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – Part 7

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center touts itself as a “collaborative local partner” when describing how it excels in supporting rural traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter schools. 

APSRC, funded since 2008 by the Walton Family Foundation, describes the reason for its existence thusly:

The mission of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to support the improvement of public education by providing advocacy services on behalf of public schools with a special emphasis on charter schools and rural districts.

This is a blatant lie. 

Yes, APSRC will draft – and lobby for – legislation that will benefit the state’s open-enrollment charter schools. It also will sit idly by while Walton-backed legislation regarding private-school vouchers floats through the Legislature. I’ve watched APSRC do this twice, during the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions. 

But this “nonprofit” organization does not represent – let alone advocate for- the 85 percent of the state’s rural traditional public schools that are paying $2,500 per year to be members of APSRC. 

Nor does APSRC “represent” Arkansas’ larger school districts that are spending thousands of dollars on “technical-assistance” contracts. 

So why do 85 percent of Arkansas’ traditional public school districts remain – or become – APSRC members? 

First, the job fluidity in public education often means that a new superintendent may unknowingly inherit an APSRC membership. Meanwhile, the bookkeeper who has for years automatically renewed the district’s APSRC membership, may or may not enlighten a new superintendent because she herself inherited the membership obligations from her predecessor. In that case, she’s used to getting that yearly invoice and cutting a check. 

In other cases, rural superintendents feel pressed to join in order to feel that they’ll be kept in the loop where legislation and any ensuing Arkansas Department of Education policies are concerned. They may loathe APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith and everything that the organization stands for, but their fear of being caught unawares is greater than any sense that they should altogether shun an organization that, ultimately, is working against their best interests. 

Meanwhile, the larger districts, such as the North Little Rock School District, are willing to pay thousands of dollars for technical-assistance contracts for services specifically designed for them. Need to cut costs and pare down your central office positions? APSRC’s finance team will help you do that. Unless, of course, you are the Little Rock School District. In which case, Smith will shy away from any interest from LRSD in forming a partnership to address central office staff, finances, teaching and learning or legal issues. Twice in early 2019, team leaders told Smith that LRSD wanted to become an APSRC member. 

Smith recoiled, saying, “I’m not sure that I want to take them on.”

Because, yeah, it would be kind of awkward to take apart a school district and sell off its parts to charter or private schools while claiming to be “helping” said district. Right? But back to what APSRC uses to entice districts…

APSRC loves to offer support and funding for pilot programs and “educational materials”  promoted and offered by APSRC to its member schools. When Smith – an attorney, not an educator – evaluates pilot programs, education-related products/services or curriculum – he isn’t considering whether any of these will actually be beneficial to educators or, more importantly, students. Smith considers only what is listed below:

  • Do the Waltons support or fund those pilot programs, curriculum or other education-related products? 
  • Does Governor Asa Hutchinson want to see these pilot programs, curriculum or other education-related products marketed in Arkansas?  (Learning Blade, anyone? Virtual-reality products via Facebook’s TechStart? The Summit Learning Platform, created by a California charter school and Facebook engineers and implemented in Arkansas public school districts?) 
  • Does APSRC stand to make money off of these pilot programs, curriculum or other education-related products?

(Side note: Smith has the attention span of a crow. Ooh, shiny! Ooh, glittery! Ooh, our next moneymaker! Then, when APSRC staff and public-school educators begin pointing out potential or very real existing flaws, Smith immediately loses interest and moves on to the next shimmery object. Remember – our children, our public-school students – are his guinea pigs in an effort to please the Waltons, the governor and other potential grantors. Businesses and salespeople are making money off of OUR kids.)

Ever wonder why NWEA is promoted by APSRC? (Even though Smith will contend it’s not.) NWEA is funded by the Waltons. A document titled NWEA Research Partnerships states: 

NWEA researchers have partnered with The Walton Family Foundation on several projects to investigate the feasibility schools’ state assessment results across several states to the NWEA scale to permit cross-state comparisons of schools.

There are two other vendors from which Arkansas public-school districts can choose to measure and interpret student data. But APSRC offers only NWEA training. Also, NWEA contributes $30,000 to $35,000 each year to APSRC’s annual, statewide fall conference. If you’ll look on the conference webpage, you’ll note that NWEA is a presenting sponsor. 

At one time, APSRC backed Istation. That was before my time. Not sure what happened there. All I know is that APSRC’s storage rooms are loaded with tote bags and padfolios emblazoned with the Istation logo. But, of course, those are no longer “usable.”

Each spring, the Arkansas Public School Resource Center sends thank-you letters to its members, reminding them of all that APSRC has to offer. 

In late June or early July, the annual membership drive begins in earnest. During my three years at APSRC, I drafted four types of letters that were sent to the leaders of Arkansas public schools. 

  • A renewal letter to be sent to traditional public school districts
  • A renewal letter to be sent to open-enrollment charters
  • An invitation to become an APSRC member to be sent to non-member traditional public school districts
  • An invitation to become an APSRC member to be sent to new open-enrollment charter schools

Let me be clear – during my three years with the organization, APSRC’s finance, teaching and learning staff, and former attorney Jennifer Wells offered valuable trainings, advice and resources to APSRC members. But they did so in silos. None realized the true purpose of APSRC. None realized that the Waltons serve as the masters of their career paths.

Smith hires talented people. He hires strong-minded women. And then he freaks out over the fact that women might have valid opinions and he runs panicking to his yes-men (Tripp Walter, Ken Rich, Kendal Wells, Scott McRae and Trent Saracini) to beg for their support when “dealing with” the women on staff.

So here’s the deal – if you want to disarm APSRC, you need to follow these recommendations: 

  • Urge your rural superintendents to question the entity to whom they are pledging their loyalty.
  •  Remind your superintendents that while, yeah, the Little Rock School District and the Pine Bluff School District are the primary targets of the Waltons, other school districts across the state need to understand that they, too, will at some point be susceptible to open-enrollment charter invasions. They are not immune, even if they are APSRC members.
  • The Waltons’ goal is to privatize ALL public education. So if you’re looking at LRSD and thinking, Oh, well, LRSD schools are the targets, not my district’s schools, well – you are deluded and need to reconsider your position and your membership with APSRC.

    APSRC has one and only one goal – to do away with public education. Sure, it’ll help you open a conversion charter. It will reassure you when an open-enrollment charter wants to open a school in your district in one of your old, no-longer-used buildings. But it also will steal your buildings and your students at the first available opportunity. 

Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – Part 6

On July 12, 2012, the Walton Family Foundation issued a $1.2 million check to the Southern Arkansas University Foundation to cover the salaries and operating costs for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a Walton-funded nonprofit founded in December 2008. 

An earlier letter, dated June 25, 2012, from the WFF’s then-executive director Buddy Philpot stipulated that the funds should, if possible, be deposited into an interest-bearing account. 

Per the letter, signed by then-SAU President Dr. David Rankin, the $1.2 million was to be used to “support an effort to support startup and operational costs for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center from January 2009 through June 30, 2012. Grantee agrees to use all grant funds exclusively for the grant’s purposes. Any changes in these purposes must be authorized in advance by the Foundation in writing.”

Previously, from December 2008 until sometime in 2012, the University of Central Arkansas Foundation had served as the vehicle for disseminating Walton funds to APSRC. In December of 2008, the UCA Foundation received a $4.6 million grant from the Waltons that was to be administered in “support” of APSRC. Then-interim UCA President Tom Courtway signed off on the deal.

The Walton Family Foundation already had initially awarded a $426,141 grant to UCA in May 2008 to “plan, develop and implement the APSRC.”

A UCA news release issued in December 2008 states: 

The purpose of the APSRC is to provide comprehensive services to advance and support school choice initiatives and the implementation of high quality [sic] open enrollment  [sic] public charter schools in Arkansas, as well as providing a variety of support services critical to the fiscal and academic success of rural public schools in Arkansas.

The APSRC’s work includes supporting school choice initiatives, implementing and expanding high quality open enrollment [sic] charter schools in Arkansas, protecting and continuing support of Arkansas public school accountability measures, and providing assistance to rural public school districts and schools committed to meeting accountability provisions of Act 35 and Act 1467, the Omnibus Education Act.

As I said in a previous post, I’m not sure what poisoned the relationship between UCA and APSRC, but by the spring of 2012, APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith was well on the way to drafting a memorandum of understanding with the Southern University of Arkansas Foundation.

The MOU was signed by Smith on July 20, 2012. Rankin and then-SAU Foundation Executive Director Jeanie Bismark signed off on July 24, 2012. 

The MOU opens with a reminder of Southern Arkansas University’s role as a state university:

SAU was established for the purposes of providing education opportunities at the university level on a regional and state wide [sic] basis and more adequately fulfilling its changing role as a multi-purpose, [sic] comprehensive [sic] institution of higher learning. See Ark. Code Ann. $6-65 401 et seq. Furthermore the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (“ADHE”) and the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board (“AHECB”) set forth the role and scope for SAU to include serving “regional and state employees, both public and private – including school districts seeking technical assistance” and supporting public schools through various outreach programs such as APSRC. 

The MOU then continues with an explanation that presumably seeks to justify SAU’s need to partner with the WFF and APSRC: 

To further these purposes, it is important that students entering universities receive a high quality [sic] education at the K-12 levels through well supported [sic] and adequate open-enrollment charter schools and public schools. 

All righty, then. One would hope that it is every state university’s desire that students arrive on campus with a “high-quality” education. I winced, however, when reading that this “high-quality” education would be provided by merely “adequate” open-enrollment charter schools and traditional school districts. 

Enter the SAU Foundation on its white horse … 

The SAU Foundation, a private non-profit corporation existing solely to benefit SAU, has received a grant to support the operational costs for APSRC in affiliation with SAU. 

Now let’s take a look at APSRC’s role, per the MOU: 

Consistent with the role of SAU set forth in Section 1.01 above, APSRC was formed as an Arkansas non-profit corporation and as a public charity in accordance with the provisions of Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code to do the following on behalf of the public schools in the state of Arkansas: 

(a) to provide comprehensive services and assistance to open enrollment [sic] public charter schools and also to rural school districts in the state of Arkansas (collectively the “public schools”);

 (b) to provide all forms of technical assistance to the public schools in areas such as school law, school finance, school technology, teaching, learning, accountability and testing, tracking and measuring student achievement, financial management and best practices, and other issues of importance to the public schools;

 (c) to provide forums, seminars, and other professional and educational and career opportunities for educators, administrators and parents with children attending the public schools, to provide professional development programs for the public schools; and

 (d) to engage in such other educational programs and activities as the board of directors of APSRC may from time to time determine is consistent with the overall mission of APSRC in supporting the public schools. 

You’ll notice that there’s no mention of Smith and APSRC staff attorneys’ numerous meetings with lawmakers before and during legislative sessions. Nor is there any reference to year-round meetings with Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key. 

I mean, do legislators, the governor and ADE’s commissioner also require professional development courses, educational programs and activities, or help with technology, teaching and law? OK, so Key might, given his lack of any sort of background in education. But c’mon. None of these players are located on K-12 campuses. 

Also, I don’t see anything laid out in the MOU that mentions APSRC’s influential role in drafting education-related bills alongside – and for – legislators. 

While APSRC purports to be a nonprofit organization that offers professional development, resources and technical assistance to traditional public school districts and open-enrollment charters, is actually yet another lobbying arm for the WFF and serves to recruit out-of-state charter-management organizations and to prop up existing failing charter schools in Arkansas. 

But hey, given that SAU’s relationship with APSRC is in its 8th year, the university and its foundation must be OK with managing the salaries, benefits and operational costs for what is, at its core, an organization that is – by its own acknowledgement via its Schedule C filings – involved in lobbying. 

Exhibit A. 

Exhibit B.

As a reminder – 

The IRS generally frowns upon lobbying conducted by organizations with a section 501(c)(3) status. 

Per the IRS: 

In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure.  It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies. 

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying.  For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.


Among my many roles as the communications director at APSRC, I was charged not only with reporting on the 91st and 92nd General Assembly and the 2018 fiscal session, but also tracking bills. 

Because of this, I sat in meetings that included Smith and APSRC attorneys. During these meetings, I witnessed the following on multiple occasions: 

  • Smith explaining which bills that APSRC would be drafting or supporting during the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions 
  • Smith explaining which bills APSRC would not take a stand on. Such bills usually were those involving private-school vouchers, which are supported by the Waltons
  • Smith declaring which bills needed to be modified or killed 
  • Smith saying that he would meet with lawmakers to discuss bills that APSRC either supported or did not support
  • Smith instructing legal staff to tweak bills that he could then take back to legislative sponsors for proposed changes
  • Smith discussing the role that LobbyUp would play in APSRC’s bill-tracking (LobbyUp provided a portal that allowed APSRC member schools to follow the bills that APSRC was tracking. Smith and LobbyUp’s Bradley Phillips on two occasions – in my presence – discussed how to lobby without using the term “lobby.” I now understand why neither seemed eager to sign an MOU for LobbyUp’s services. At one point, Phillips informed me that he and Smith had a “gentleman’s agreement” and that he didn’t need to sign an MOU.) 

And then, during the 92nd General Assembly, I listened in disbelief when Smith denied that APSRC lobbies the state legislature when a bill pertaining to education membership organizations and lobbying ran in the Senate Education Committee. The bill, sponsored by Senator Breanne Davis, stated: 

Except as provided in subdivision (a)(1) of this section, a public school district shall not use public funds to pay membership dues to a teacher’s, classified employee’s, or public school district board of directors member’s educational professional organization that uses public funds to directly or indirectly engage in lobbying.

I asked Smith whether the bill – if passed – would impact members of APSRC. He said no. I was perplexed. It was my understanding that school districts and open-enrollment charters used state funding to pay for their APSRC memberships. Memberships for traditional districts cost $2,500. Memberships for open-enrollment charters were $3,500. I couldn’t imagine a superintendent or charter director pulling money from their own pockets to cover their APSRC dues. 

Other membership organizations, such as the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, testified against the bill. Smith didn’t.

That’s likely because Smith and others at APSRC routinely engaged in behind-the-scenes lobbying, even if they weren’t urging their members to contact lawmakers to support or criticize proposed legislation.  So how did the bill not “apply” to APSRC? 

Regardless, the proposed legislation didn’t make it through the House Education Committee before the legislature adjourned. 

Now let’s look at the SAU Foundation’s nonprofit status. Per its 990 in 2009, the foundation’s purpose is to “provide financial aid and scholarships.” 

Its mission remains the same in its 2018 report

I’m curious as to how APSRC’s activities might affect not only its own tax-exempt status, but also that of the SAU Foundation. (Please, experts, chime in here. Thank you.) 

Oh, but wait – APSRC made sure to give itself a little wiggle room in the MOU by including a section titled “Other Activities of APSRC” – 

The parties recognize that APSRC is a private non-profit organization, and as a result, will not utilize any resources of SAU except for the purposes set forth herein which are consistent with the public purposes of SAU. APSRC may, however, perform with its own funds and without utilizing any resources of SAU, including the use of SAU staff while such staff are performing their functions as SAU employees, other functions consistent with APSRC’s Articles of Incorporation and 501(c)(3) status.

As such, the actions of APSRC shall not be considered the actions, opinions or positions of SAU and shall be the private action solely of APSRC. SAU recognizes that as a private corporation records and data of these activities may be kept separate and confidential consistent with any applicable law. 

This might explain – along with the lack of any confirmation that the WFF would or not approve the most recent grant application – why Smith went on a tear during 2017 and 2018 regarding how each APSRC team leader could raise enough revenue to cover 75 percent of his or her salary. 

The fact is, however, that APSRC needs SAU way more than SAU needs APSRC. 

Why? To attract quality staff. No one who has put years into state retirement or the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System is going to chuck all of that aside for a job at a nonprofit organization with dubious ties. 

(Helpful hint: If you work for such an organization and feel compelled to offer a “but” when explaining why you work there, you’re pretty much conveying to the listener that you are ashamed of what you do. I know because I found myself using that “but” clause all too many times during my years at APSRC.) 

But back to why APSRC and the Waltons rely on state university foundations to help achieve their mission of charterizing and privatizing public education …

Before being asked to lead APSRC, Smith – an attorney with a background in business administration – had put in years with the Arkansas Department of Education. So had the woman he hired to be his business manager, Lisa Walters. Factor in as well attorney Tripp Walter, who joined APSRC in 2010. Prior to that, Walter also served as an attorney at ADE.

Also, while Smith had a stable of attorneys and office support, he desperately needed respected public-school leaders to make APSRC more … palatable … to potential members. But he couldn’t lure educators to his organization if they stood to lose their retirement. 

Over the years, little tweaks here and there to state legislation have made it possible for certain state agency employees and university staff to become members of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System (ATRS).  Full-time employees of the entities listed below are, conveniently, able to become members of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. So here’s a list of participating reciprocal state retirement systems: 

  • Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System
  • Arkansas Teachers Retirement System
  • Arkansas State Highway Retirement System
  • Arkansas State Police Retirement System
  • Arkansas Judicial Retirement System
  • Alternate Retirement Plan for the following:
      • Arkansas Department of Higher Education
      • Arkansas Department of Workforce Education
      • College
      • University
      • Vocational-Technical Schools

Hence, my friends, the Waltons’ need to persuade state university foundations to take on APSRC.

Per the MOU, here’s a list of Southern Arkansas University’s obligations to APSRC: 

Providing access to adequate full-time or part-time SAU staff to APSRC to perform those functions as described in Section 3 below, such staff’s salaries and benefits to be reimbursed to SAU by the SAU Foundation through grants received by the SAU Foundation for such purpose. 

Working in concert with APSRC to host conferences, events, seminars and trainings to better prepare faculty, staff and board members of traditional and charter K-12 public schools in Arkansas. 

Helping APSRC provide specific technical training in the areas of school law, school finance, school technology, teaching and learning, and other areas set forth in Section 1.04 of this MOU. 

Providing APSRC’s full-time, non-contracted staffs with equivalent benefits and privileges as are provided to SAU’s full-time employees. 

Reports will be provided as needed for year-end accounting and other reporting needs. 

Now let’s take a look at APSRC’s obligations: 

In exchange for the consideration provided herein by SAU, APSRC will provide SAU with access to the following resources and benefits and provide the following services in furtherance of the purposes of SAU, such as but not limited to: 

Obtaining grant funds for the benefit of SAU to support the expense of APSRC staff including the payment of the salaries and benefits of employees of SAU supporting APSRC. 

Obtaining grant funds to support the rental of facilities and other resources from SAU and others. 

Obtaining grant funds to support the administrative cost of administering a grant program. The amount of support will be 4.5% of salaries paid. 

Providing from time to time APSRC staff for adjunct teaching assignments and seminars at SAU. 3.05 Providing internship program offerings at APSRC for the College of Education students of SAU. 

Providing assistance to SAU for the purpose of educating the public on public school issues, enhancing the teacher education program, and the overall advancement of teaching and learning in public schools. 

Providing technical and other assistance to public schools consistent with the purposes of 

Reporting to SAU on request, but at least annually, those activities of SAU which involve SAU resources provided in accordance with Article 2 above. 

Should either party want to sever ties, the MOU details the process: 

This MOU is effective as of June 30, 2012 for fringe benefits and July 1, 2012 for other purposes and will continue in effect until either party terminates it for any reason by giving the other party at least ninety (90) days prior written notice of termination. 

This MOU may be immediately terminated by either party in the event that grant funding of the SAU staff working with APSRC is no longer available. 

SAU may immediately terminate this MOU in the event it determines that any SAU resources provided hereunder are not being utilized by APSRC