Your Choices for Choosing Your School’s School Choice Festival
In a world where “school choice” is usually a euphemism for “school deregulation and privatization,” Northwest Arkansas once had a brief two years where “school choice” actually included all our school options. The Northwest Arkansas School Choice Festival honored National School Choice Week in 2017 and 2018 by bringing traditional public school districts, charter schools, private schools, and members of state government together at the Jones Center in Springdale, AR.
However, “NWA School Choice” didn’t actually exist, as a legal entity, until after these first two yearly festivals had been held. On April 23, 2018, Dr. Martin Schoppmeyer reserved the name, “NWA School Choice,” with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. In August, 2018, NWA School Choice became official. Why did Dr. Schoppmeyer wait so long to make it legal?
Originally, the NWA School Choice Festival was operated by its Executive Director Heather Holaway, who volunteered for this role in addition to her salaried duties as Executive Director of Marketing and Communications at Haas Hall Academy. Its “Founder and CEO” was Haas Hall Superintendent Martin Schoppmeyer, Jr.
As I’ve written before (here and here) I believe the NWA School Choice Festival (2017 & 2018) had its bills paid by The Academy Foundation — a private grant-making foundation operated solely by Dr. Martin Schoppmeyer, Jr., his mom, and his wife to support Haas Hall Academy.
Last month, I exercised my right to access public records under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and requested a list of all Haas Hall employees who had separated from the school since 2015. I also asked for copies of all Haas Hall non-disclosure agreements, and 17 other things that aren’t particularly relevant to this post.
Three days later, the Rose Law Firm (on behalf of Dr. Schoppmeyer, to whom I originally submitted the FOIA request) confirmed that Heather Holaway was no longer working for Haas Hall. I also got to see the “Confidential Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release” she signed when she left. (Note: She signed it on April 19, 2018 — just four days before Dr. Schoppmeyer reserved the “NWA School Choice” name for himself.)
(Full disclosure: Heather Holaway found me on Facebook after I wrote my first Haas Hall blog post. We’ve had coffee once, and I’ve FOIA’ed her, too.)
Well. Now that Heather Holaway and Martin Schoppmeyer have gone their separate ways, who’s in charge?
They’re clearly jockeying for position.
The NWA School Choice Festival is about to take place, again, at the Holiday Inn Convention Center on January 12, 2019. This time, however, it is just Dr. Schoppmeyer running the show. Heather Holaway, who incorporated ED Nexus in June, 2018 as an answer to Schoppmeyer’s “NWA School Choice” nonprofit, won’t field her own “School Choice” festival until next year.
In the meantime, Dr. Schoppmeyer sends out mailers like this:
Please note, the return address is the Haas Hall Academy (Rogers) school address — NOT the registered NWA School Choice address.
Also, this year’s sponsors include “School Choice Arkansas.” (Okay, this is just another recently-incorporated Schoppmeyer nonprofit.)
Another 2019 sponsor is The Reform Alliance (incorporated by Laurie Lee of Trace Strategies, who lobbies with Walton money for ALLIANCE FOR SCHOOL CHOICE, INC. (DBA “AFC Growth Fund,”) Arkansas Electric Energy Consumers, Arkansas Gas Consumers Inc., — but come on, these two are both really Jordan Tinsley, who works for the Hutchinson family, Clean Line Energy Partners, LLC, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund (which is really former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,) Excellence in Education National, Inc., Jeff Dangeau (dba Arkansas Parents for School Choice, whose father served in the Arkansas legislature with Governor Asa Hutchinson’s brother, Tim Hutchinson) and Lion Oil PALCO — whose Paladino family roots link up with the Schoppmeyers via Catholicism and the Subiaco Academy.)
This year’s NWA School Choice Festival is also sponsored by RootED (incorporated by Judith Yañez, who used to teach at Haas Hall.) Yañez previously worked for the Cisneros Center, which is heavily promoted by the Walton Family Foundation — Haas Hall’s primary sponsor.
I’m sorry, can we pause, here? I’d like to show you the board of directors for “Excellence in Education National, Inc.,” one of the organizations for whom Laurie Lee lobbies.
That’s US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, as the secretary of “Excellence in Education” in 2016. I’m just saying. This is NOT a grassroots movement. It’s not even limited to Arkansas, or the Walton family. It includes Condoleezza Rice, Charles Schwab, and Florida governor Jeb Bush. Big, national names. One of its top donors is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
I guess it’s better than having everything just paid by The Three Schoppmeyers. But honestly, it doesn’t seem like much choice, to me. If you’re interested in a different approach, you might want to keep track of Heather Holaway. Her new nonprofit, ED Nexus, promises to return to the “school choice” scene next year, for a competitive “school choice” festival in Northwest Arkansas.
I guess you now have two choices for where you go to learn about school choice in Northwest Arkansas.
But choose wisely.