Austin Bailey writes in The Arkansas Times about a disappearing kind of Republican: the old-timers who supported their community public schools. As they die out, they are replaced by the newcomers in the mold of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who abhor anything provided by government, no matter what the consequences.

Sanders has proposed a sweeping voucher bill that will send hundreds of millions of dollars to students already enrolled in private and religious schools. A while back, there were Republicans who would have fought her. Their numbers are dwindling.

Bailey writes:

It’s a different era at the Arkansas Capitol these days, with emboldened and Trumpy Republicans unafraid to mislead, obfuscate and say the quiet parts out loud.

Innocent and harmless trans kids get crammed into metaphorical lockers over there all the time now, a convenient scapegoat for white evangelical bullies virtue signalling their Aryan heteronormativity. Poor people who need housing and food are also sitting ducks, powerless to punch back at upper-middle-class legislators chastising them to get a job already.

But the most deafening quiet part blaring in our ears this week was the message that providing a solid education to all children in Arkansas is kind of a drag, so the state should give up on that idea altogether and let the free market handle it. Sure, we will be leaving families who lack the cash, resources or elitism required to bail on democracy’s greatest invention to languish in public schools whose funding bases shrink as taxpayer money goes to private schools. But for those who stay put in those starving public schools — either because they love them, or because there are no other options close by, or because a $7,000 voucher covers only part of the tuition and other expenses required for a private education — well, that’s their “choice.”BRIAN CHILSONRep. Bruce Cozart is plumb worn out.

Rep. Bruce Cozart (R-Hot Springs), former chair of the House Education Committee and a 10-year Capitol veteran, all but admitted this week that the fight for equity in education is lost. Cozart met with a cluster of public school teachers who came to Little Rock from across the state to try to figure out what the hell is going on. Gov. Sarah Sanders continues to dangle foreboding sound bytes about “bold, conservative reform,” “education freedom accounts” and merit pay, but there’s nothing yet on paper and teachers are understandably desperate for details.

A veteran in the fight against school vouchers, Cozart is laying down his sword.

“I know you are disappointed in me, but I have been fighting vouchers for eight years and I am just tired. There is nothing I can do,” he told teachers Wednesday.

Did he really say this stuff? Yes! Reached by phone Friday morning, Cozart gave some lip service to what he said were the good intentions of his Republican colleagues, but confirmed the conversations.

There are other Republican advocates of public schools in the Arkansas Legislature, but they’re seemingly a dying breed. Sen. James Sturch, an educator and reliable public school champion, got primaried and lost his seat in 2022 to pro-voucher candidate John Payton. Republican Rep. Jim Wooten of Beebe is still hard at work trying to push bills to keep vouchers from widening the gap between “haves and have-nots.” A couple of Republicans recently went along with Wooten’s bill to require private schools that accept public money in the form of vouchers to issue standardized tests and admit all comers, but most Republicans in the House Education hearing did not. The bill died in committee.

Sanders’ Arkansas LEARNS is expected to drop any day now, and it’s going to whip the rug out from under all the educators, families and students who believe in the ideals of community and collective opportunity our public schools still embody.

It’s absolutely true that many Arkansas public school students struggle in the classroom. That’s because they struggle outside the classroom, too. Arkansas kids face more than their share of poverty, food insecurity and trauma, and without fixing those external factors, these students won’t have the energy and focus they need to excel in the three Rs.

But ending hunger and poverty is hard; shitting on public schools is easy. The governor and her compliant stairwell full of cheering white conservatives know it’s much easier to blame poor showings on national standardized test dashboards on bleeding heart teachers and their crumbly old schools.

Arkansas LEARNS, this looming assault on the children who need help the most, will literally send hundreds of millions of public dollars to families already paying private school tuitions without taxpayers’ help, and we need to talk about it.

“The rich want vouchers. That’s who this legislation is for. The rich. They want it and they are going to get it. I am sorry but that’s just the truth,” Cozart said. Sometimes saying the quiet part out loud isn’t a bad thing