- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Oct. 12, 2015

One comment sums it up

A handful of school districts in Arkansas - less than 20, out of more than 230 school districts - have put up a fight when parents have asked to move their children to other school districts. It’s called school choice. Over the years, Arkansas lawmakers, bless ‘em, have tried to make it easier for parents to move their kids away from failing schools, across school district boundaries, and into districts that are actually doing the job of educating students.

But the brass at 18 school districts, and boy do they have it, are doing everything they can to deny this choice. Even pulling out old deseg orders and court documents from the 1960s (and even earlier) to show that, gosh, they’d really love to comply with the law but their hands are tied. Never mind that the lawyers and judges who worked on some of those deseg orders long ago are no longer on the job, or maybe even alive. Are those old deseg orders still in effect all these years later? Why go into detail? A school district has to do what it has to do to keep its students - and the state money that comes with each kid.

The folks speaking for these school districts - various principals, lawyers, school board members, etc. - have practice at making excuses. And some have made these excuses for so long that maybe a few are even starting to believe what they say. But every now and then you’ll get a spot of honesty. Perhaps unintended, but honesty just the same.

In Blytheville, for good example.

The superintendent there says the school district doesn’t have a choice when it denies kids the opportunity to go elsewhere. The folks at district HQ really, really, really would like to help. But, gosh, look at all those crazy laws that prevent transfers. (Sigh.) Or as the superintendent of the Blytheville school district told the paper: “We’re in a minefield between federal judges and crazy state laws.”

Uh huh.

But then reporters went to a former school board member, Lori Hixon, who was defeated in the last election by two votes. She opposed school transfers when she was on the board. And here’s what she told the press:

“If we’d chosen to be a part of school choice, they were lined up to leave the district.” They being, presumably, kids looking for a better education.

You see, if the school board had chosen …

The kids were lined up …

To leave the district.

Which might leave some to believe that the school district in Blytheville - and school districts elsewhere - choose to deny transfers - just as Ms. Hixon suggested. And the families in some of these school districts are so anxious to get their children out of these failing schools that they’re “lined up” to leave. But school boards stand in the way, keeping kids in failing schools.

This is an example of the worst kind of school district leadership. As if the district, and its money, should be the priority, not the kids.

There is hope. Just see the Arkansas Board of Education and what it did last week. The board finally granted a student transfer to a student after denying transfers for the longest. It seems the Board of Education has seen the light. Or at least three members of the board; the vote was 3-2 to let the kid escape the failing school.

This is a reason to celebrate. And here’s hoping the Board of Education overrules more school boards that think of the district’s money first, kids second, if even that.

If local school boards - or at least a handful of them - aren’t going to do right by students, here’s hoping the Legislature, the governor, and the Board of Education will. Before another generation of kids are subjected to failing schools.


Texarkana Gazette, Oct. 10, 2015

Viral video

It wasn’t that long ago that a fraternity chapter at the University of Oklahoma got into deep trouble when a video surfaced showing some members singing a song that was racially insensitive at best.

Not long after another fraternity at the University of North Texas got into trouble when a video that surfaced after an alleged hazing ritual prompted allegations not only of hazing, but of homophobic conduct as well.

You would think someone would be paying attention.

Apparently not. Now a fraternity at Indiana University has been shut down by its national office after a video showing a member engaged in a sex act with a woman later identified as an “exotic dancer” went viral.

The short clip - less than a minute - was originally thought to show a hazing ritual and speculation was that the fraternity member was a pledge forced to perform the act. A subsequent investigation by the fraternity’s national office revealed he was a 21-year-old active.

But that didn’t matter. The national headquarters said the chapter had violated the fraternity’s code of conduct, engaging in activities “contrary to the ideals and principals” of the organization. Their charter was revoked.

Many of our readers have sons away at college. And some are members of fraternities. For most, fraternity life is a fine experience and creates lifelong bonds with their fellow members. But guys in their late teens and early 20s do not always make the best decisions. These incidents and hundreds like them over the past several years show that clearly.

We don’t condemn the fraternity system as so many have. Instead, we think it’s time these college students took an important lesson to heart.

It’s not the 1980s. Times have changed. And you just can’t get away with a lot of things society used to accept with a wink, nod and “boys will be boys.”

Parents, too, have a role in this. Many are footing the bill for an education or at least contributing to the tab. Incidents like this, depending on the severity, can lead not only to a young fellow having to find a new place to live, but also to suspension or expulsion from school and even criminal charges. And in some hazing cases, injury or death.

Time to face the facts. Just about everything you do these days will be made public. The national news is just a smartphone away. Think twice, three times before you do anything you don’t want exposed to the world.

In other words, “Animal House” is a fun film but it’s not a template for college life. Not anymore.


Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Oct. 13, 2015

Going once, going twice

The median income of a household in Arkansas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2013 was $40,768.

So how many Arkansans could even consider an opportunity to bid $13,000 to have dinner with Gov. Asa Hutchinson?

Not many.

Hutchinson recently allowed two charities to auction dinners for 10 with the governor as a way to raise money for unquestionably worthwhile causes.

At the 20th Century Club’s Hope Ball, the dinner fetched the aforementioned $13,000. The club’s lodge provides free rooms and food for needy cancer patients receiving treatment in central Arkansas.

In September, the same auction item earned a winning bid of $10,000 as a way to benefit the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, which help families and children facing challenges after child abuse.

Hutchinson, who took office in January, auctioning off a meal with the governor remains uncommon. His wife was on the board of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County for years. His daughter is a member of the 20th Century Club. He’s declined such requests from other charities, ostensibly the ones without family connections.

None of this involves the use of taxpayer dollars. The charities that auctioned the dinners off must pay the real costs associated with the dinners, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 or $1,500.

Hutchinson deflected any concern about putting access to the governor up for bid.

“I think the priority was giving money to charity rather than having dinner with me,” he said.


Former Democratic state Sen. Percy Malone of Arkadelphia purchased the $13,000 dinner. He told an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter he was looking forward to talking to the governor and first lady over a meal.

Who wouldn’t? For a five-figure sum, one would certainly expect to have the governor’s undivided attention for an evening. To Malone’s credit, he’s looking at it as an opportunity to advocate for children.

“These kids - they’re not Republicans. They’re not Democrats. They’re not communists. They’re God’s creation. We’re going to talk about how we can help, because it’s a huge problem,” Malone said. “I really appreciate so much what the first lady, Susan Hutchinson, is doing. For her to have the event at the Governor’s Mansion - it raises awareness.”

Hutchinson’s openness to such auctions is a change of pace in the governor’s office. Former Gov. Mike Beebe said “I never auctioned me off” but acknowledged he didn’t know if there was anything wrong with the practice.

Wrong? Perhaps not, but the practice is a little discomfiting. What if a buyer turned out to be president of a company under review by, say, the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology? Or maybe calculated purchase by a supporter of Planned Parenthood or, in contract, by Arkansas Right to Life? Or, if it was simply a bit of an embarrassment such as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan from Zinc?

Of course, none of that happened, and some will say such hand-wringing is useless. But Hutchinson is at least partially right: Bidders are not really trying to have dinner with Asa Hutchinson. They want dinner with the governor of the state of Arkansas. How many times, for example, did charities asked to auction dinner with Asa Hutchinson before he earned election into the state’s highest office?

There’s no huge controversy here. Just a concern. High-dollar auctions of access to the governor reinforce a perception — certainly earned at many levels of politics — that money speaks louder than simple constituency.

Are we to see dinner with the attorney general up for bid? Breakfast with the lieutenant governor? Snack time with the secretary of state?

It’s good news some serious money was raised for charities who do great work within our state. That’s not the issue.

The question is whether auctioning the governor off is good for the office and good for Arkansans.

Hutchinson, in explaining the limited nature of his participation in such auctions, knows he’s ventured into a practice that requires sensitivity to the authority of his office.

He shouldn’t want to encourage average Arkansans to ask how they can have dinner with their governor, and does it require more than $10,000.

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