Archives for category: Arkansas

The Arkansas Legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders “education” bill, dubbed LEARNS, which authorizes vouchers. The first two hearings were held during school hours. The bill sailed through the legislature. The third hearing, where students were able to attend, was limited to a six-page amendment.

The students wanted to oppose the bill, but State Senator Jane English tried to shut them down, interrupting them, cutting them off.

Students found clever ways to work around her brusque treatment but their objections were ignored.

“I’m sorry, you just don’t get to talk on the bill,” English told the students. “If you want to talk on this amendment, specifically things that are in this amendment, you’re free to do that, but you cannot speak on the bill….”

“I’d like to speak on the amendments, and how they do not go far enough to tear down and decimate this bill,” said student Ethan Walker, over repeated interruptions by English. “These petty little wording rearrangements don’t do anything to address how bad this bill actually is….”

Another student, sophomore Rhone Kuta, worked around English’s objections by referencing a specific line on a specific page, as the Republican chair repeatedly interrupted him.

“Where it deletes ‘and’ and substitutes ‘or,’ the reasons I believe this amendment is bad is, this should actually say we are deleting the voucher program on section 63 because the voucher program absolutely reallocates resources from the working class Americans and Arkansans and reallocates it to the upper class,” Kuta said.

The students showed themselves to be far more intelligent than their elected officials. They were treated shamefully. The bill was a fair accompli.

If you do only one thing today at my request, please watch the video in the Alternet post, where you will see an adult bullying high school students.

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

Carol Burris is the executive director for of the Network for Public Education. in this post, which she wrote exclusively for the blog, she reveals the details of Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ plan to defund and destroy the public schools in her state.

Burris writes:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of Baptist minister and former Governor Mike Huckabee, missed learning the 9th commandment that prohibits telling a lie. As press secretary to Donald Trump, her distortions of the truth resulted in the editor of Forbes warning corporations against hiring Sanders and other Trump “propagandists,” writing, “Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie.”


Now she is the Governor of Arkansas. On her first day in office and in her response to Biden’s State of the Union, she parroted the old “education is the civil rights issue of our time” line that has been used to justify horrible policies from school closures to charter schools and vouchers. However, the disconnect between what she says and what she does quickly became apparent. On her first day in office, she issued an executive order prohibiting “indoctrination and critical race theory in schools” and another banning the term “Latinx” from being used in state documents. State authorities are investigating AP African American Studies at Little Rock Central High School, where the majority of students are Black.

If we need further proof that this self-proclaimed champion of Civil Rights is more aptly described as a champion of Civil Wrongs, look at her recently leaked ed reform plan.

Here are its features:


The Privatization of Public Education:

· Her voucher plan is a universal ESA—the plan now favored by the far-right. These plans have few rules and no family eligibility requirements. They have become Entitlement Spending Accounts–cash going into the pockets of private school families regardless of income. The leaked plan does not say how taxpayers will pay for it. But everyone will be eligible by 2025. It includes Voucher funding for homeschools. The only restrictions will apply to vendors, so those who enroll their children in those recently uncovered Neo-Nazi homeschools can find ways to cash in.

· Increased tax credits for contributions to an existing voucher program.

· Local School Boards can contract with an open-enrollment charter school or private company to run a school campus at risk of state takeover due to low performance—and if they do, they get a financial incentive.

· Establishment of a charter-school construction fund for new charters and expansion.

· Elimination of the cap on charters.

· Charter school applications no longer need to be reviewed and approved by the local school district board of directors.

· All students attending a public school can take courses and earn credit for classes not offered in their school. By the beginning of the 2025-2026 school year, students attending a public school that receives a letter grade of “C”, “D”, or “P” from the Arkansas School and District Accountability System may take their required courses (i.e. math, English, etc.) through the course choice program. Bet your bottom dollar that these courses will be online, with vendors like Stride K12 making a fortune.

Censoring and Controlling Curriculum

· K-3 literacy evaluation will be aligned with the “science of reading.”

· Before grade 5, teachers cannot provide classroom instruction on the following topics: sexually explicit materials, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

· School districts must implement an age-appropriate child sexual prevention program for grades K-12, allowing parents to preview materials and exempt their children from instruction. (I have no idea what a child sexual prevention program even is.)

· The Secretary of Education will review the Department of Education regulations, policies, materials, and communications to ensure they do not indoctrinate students with ideologies that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law.

· No school employee or student must attend training on prohibited indoctrination or Critical Race Theory.


Harmful Policies for Students

· 3rd-grade retention based on deficits in reading proficiency.

· An accountability system for pre-school education that includes student data.

· Literacy testing three times a year for all students in K-3.

· Curriculum tracking in Grade 8.

· Community service requirements, which may, for some students, be challenging to meet.

· Mandated cops on campus.

· Career-ready pathways in partnership with local business and industry leaders” translate workforce training programs to track students into low-paying and middle-wage jobs.

Punitive Policies for Teachers


· Elimination of due process in dismissals.

· Base salaries will no longer increase by years of experience or for Master’s degrees.

· Bonuses based on VAM.

There are a few likable initiatives in her plan, such as paid maternity leave for teachers, but if she makes districts fund them even as she drains their funding with charter schools and voucher expansion, a good initiative will be one more financial pressure on already underfunded schools.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education plan is a hodgepodge of all the awful and ineffective ideas proposed since No Child Left Behind. The fingerprints of JEB! and the Walton family are over the leaked legislation.

Despite its hodgepodge nature, one thing is clear—its ultimate intent is to destroy public education in the state by slamming a fist down on students, public schools, and their teachers while propping up a wild and largely unaccountable privatized system.




The new Governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has chosen Jacob Olivia, a member of Ron DeSantis’ education team to lead Arkansas’ schools.

Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times expects that the change in personnel indicates a new move to install vouchers and to copy other parts of disastrous and divisive education agenda.

Yep, the Cabinet appointment today by incoming Governor Sanders was a big one. She’ll be replacing Asa Hutchinson’s Education secretary, Johnny Key, with a veteran of the DeSantis administration in Florida, Jacob Oliva, senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, overseeing the Division of Public Schools.

Brantley quotes an opinion piece written in the district where Olivia was a superintendent before DeSantis brought him into a statewide position:

A quick search turned up this opinion piece on Oliva, by a writer who said he’d been a generally progressive school administrator in Flagler County but had drunk DeSantis’ “reactionary Kool-Aid.” It notes that, as a high school principal, Oliva initially moved to kill a student production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but relented after protests, a positive sign of his willingness to listen.

But the writer also said of Olivia:

I am trying to understand how you went from being one of the most progressive, innovative and inclusive superintendents in the history of Flagler County to a shill, as one of two Florida senior chancellors of education, for the single most regressive, reactionary and, frankly, just plain mean state departments of education in the nation. Something isn’t adding up.

This isn’t the Jacob Oliva we knew, unless you’ve placed a bet on Ron DeSantis becoming president and your next nameplate getting laminated in Washington. Even so: has your ambition become so primeval that you’re willing to make these Faustian bargains the way you have on covid safety measures, on gender identity, on sanitized civics and history, and now degrading math textbooks for something as innocuous–if not provably useful–as their social-emotional learning content?

I urge you to open the link and read the article, and please, please read the comments.

Max Brantley writes in the Arkansas Times that the voucher lobby is determined to reverse their 44-52 loss in the Arkansas House. Backed by Walton money, they are naming and shaming the legislators who stood up for their community’s public schools.

Although Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, and his children attended public schools, they are determined to destroy public schools that provide the same opportunity for other people’s children. They blithely toss out millions to buy the support of people who have no heart or soul and will gladly lobby to harm the institution that has been an abiding symbol of our democracy for generations. Public schools have failings, like every other institution. They must be far better, and they should have the respect and the funding to provide equal opportunity to all children.

But the Waltons have led the forces of greed that seek to undermine public schools that accept all students and have standards for professionals. Let me tell you what I think of the Waltons: I think they are greedy. I think they don’t care about other people’s children. They hate unions and public schools. They love privately managed charter schools, vouchers,and any other substitute for the public schools they attended. They treat everyone else as peasants. They are arrogant. They are prideful.

The Waltons represent the worst of American society: people who have become fabulously wealthy by killing small towns, driving small stores out of business, underpaying their one million employees, using their vast wealth to impoverish others and to undermine the community institutions that enrich the lives of people they treat with contempt. For them and their ilk, playing with the lives of other people’s children is a hobby, a pastime. They are very, very rich, and they must have their way. They don’t understand why the peasants refuse to bow down to their wishes.

Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times reported good news. A proposal to expand the state’s small voucher plan was rejected by the House. Republicans joined Democrats to provide the votes to defeat vouchers. Many rural Republicans don’t want to hurt their public schools.

He writes:

After more than an hour and a half of impassioned debate, the Arkansas House today defeated a bill to double from about 500 the number of students in Arkansas who could receive state money for vouchers to attend private schools. The vote was 44-52, with two voting present and two not voting.

A motion to clinch the outcome failed, so the bill may come up again. UPDATE: Here’s the roll call.

The debate covered familiar talking points, with some legislators repeating speeches they’d given when the bill cleared a House committee 11-9 yesterday.

Proponents hammered on choice and emphasized that the bill would favor lower-income families (though the income cutoff is higher than the average family income in Arkansas.)

Opponents emphasized the loss of funding for public schools and the measure’s  open-ended growth from an initial outlay of $4 million. They talked of uncertainty about what students would be chosen and about the lack of standards for private schools. (They’d need only be approved by a private association of private schools.)

I was particularly moved by a couple of opponents.Rep. Jim Wooten (R-Beebe) said the bill would be “the final nail driven in public education in this state.” It’s a progressive nibbling away, he said. “If you think these private schools are going to take every comer that comes to their door, you are fooling yourself.”

Rep. David Tollett (R-Lexa), a school superintendent, told of the private schools in the Delta, creatures of segregation. He challenged legislators to name a minority private school in the state. “This privatizes of public education. It is a nationwide movement. It has struck many different states and not one of them has been successful.” He did the compounding of the cost: at a 25 percent growth rate, it will reach $1 billion in time.

He read from studies showing harm to students from voucher programs, particularly Louisiana where voucher students ended up in many poor quality private schools.

He said the state could have simply lifted a cap on the existing voucher program, which targets students with disabilities. Why, Tollett asked, does it take a 29-page bill to change things. “It’s a Trojan horse,” he said. “It’s not about the children.” He and Wooten both noted the money spent on scholarships ($30 million, Wooten said) by private schools to recruit athletes for prize-winning teams.ADVERTISEMENT

Tollett also said a promise of money for public schools in the fund that will finance vouchers is an empty promise because the categorical programs are already covered by federal money directed to needy districts. Tollett also commented that heard some say a vote by a Republican was a vote contrary to the party platform. He said nobody had tried to tell him that. Republicans accounted for a majority of the no votes. There are only 22 Democrats in the House.

Joyce Elliott is running for Congress in Arkansas. She is a wonderful, dynamic woman, and I ask you to send whatever you can to help her win the election.

Joyce was born in Willisville, Arkansas (population 152). She was only the second black student to integrate the local high school (her older sister was first). She was a high school English teacher for thirty years. In 2001, she was elected to the State Legislature, where she eventually became chair of the Education Committee.

Joyce is a member of the Network for Public Education. She has attended our conferences. Right now, she is running to become the first black person ever elected to Congress from the state of Arkansas. She is running against an incumbent who is a wealthy Republican banker.

Although Joyce has been outspent, the polls show that they are in a tie.

She needs and deserves your help. Send a teacher to Congress!

Joyce Elliott is a dynamic woman who is running for Congress in Arkansas. I’m asking you to send whatever you can to help her unseat French Hill, a loyal ally of Trump, a millionaire and former banker.

Joyce would be the first black member of Congress from Arkansas. She was a public high school teacher. She is a member of the Network for Public Education. I have contributed to her campaign eight times.

Joyce is a teacher and public servant running as a Democrat for Congress in Arkansas.

Born and raised in rural Willisville, Joyce could see divisions in her community from an early age. She and her sister were the first Black kids to graduate from their newly integrated school.

In the years since, Joyce has dedicated her life to public service: First, as a public high school teacher, then as a State Representative and Senator, and now as a candidate for U.S. Congress.

The latest reports say Joyce is in striking distance of winning this race and flipping Arkansas blue for Democrats. Her race has been given the prestigious “Red to Blue” distinction, and she is endorsed by EMILY’s List and the Congressional Black Caucus.

But at this moment, Joyce is massively outraised. We’re counting on grassroots support to win. Will you chip in today and help us send Joyce to Congress?


Joyce Elliott for Congress
PO Box 179
Little Rock , AR 72203
United States


In a letter sent to Arkansas legislative leaders last week, Public Funds Public Schools, along with other state and national organizations, urged the Arkansas General Assembly to end the state’s harmful and inequitable private school voucher program. The letter highlights alarming information revealed in the recently released biennial report on the “Succeed Scholarship Program,” Arkansas’ voucher program for students with disabilities and students in the foster care system.

The letter was signed by leading advocates for Arkansas students and families, including Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas Citizens First Congress, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and Arkansas-based philanthropic and education leader Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton. In addition to PFPS, several regional and national education advocacy groups also signed on, including Education Law Center and SPLC Action Fund (which collaborate on PFPS), and the Southern Education Foundation.

“The 2020 Report illustrates in detail the glaring deficiencies in Succeed Vouchers’ ability to improve academic outcomes and promote equity and access for historically – and currently – marginalized students. It also illustrates the profound difficulties in ensuring appropriate oversight of this publicly-funded program,” the letter notes.

The State’s 2020 Report, which was mandated by bipartisan legislation passed in 2019, also underscores the lack of data necessary to evaluate the academic effects of the Succeed Vouchers, noting that “meaningful comparative data regarding student performance based on the assessment scores private schools provide is hindered by several factors.” The academic outcome information that was collected, however, shows low test scores for the majority of voucher recipients. This failing is consistent with research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of private school voucher programs across the country in improving students’ academic outcomes.

The 2020 Report also exposes inequitable enrollment statistics, troubling data inconsistencies, and little accountability for the public funds spent on the voucher program.

Key findings include:

* There are significant gaps in data on the racial demographics of voucher students. Of those for whom data was available, there are significant racial disparities: 5% of voucher students were Latinx, 12% were Black, and 78% were White. Students with disabilities in Arkansas public schools, on the other hand, are 11% Latinx, 23% Black, and 61% White.

*Due to participating private schools’ inconsistent reporting and data collection standards, the Free or Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) status of 44% of participating students is unreported. Of available data, just 30% of voucher students were eligible for FRPL, while 60% of Arkansas public school students are eligible.

*Only three-quarters of participating private schools are accredited, while a quarter are on some type of path to accreditation. Thus, schools participating in the voucher program are receiving taxpayer dollars without completing a rigorous accreditation process, let alone being held to the same accountability and reporting standards as public schools.

*Nearly 20% of voucher students have left their private schools, for reasons including dismissal, inability to pay tuition amounts not covered by their voucher, and lack of access to transportation.

The letter to Arkansas lawmakers notes that, as more resources are needed to meet students’ needs due to COVID-19, the impact of the pandemic on Arkansas’ education budget will be over $2 billion for the next fiscal year, making it more urgent than ever to focus limited public funds on effective, research-based programs that meet the needs of Arkansas’ public school students, who are the vast majority of Arkansas schoolchildren. Instead of diverting millions to an ineffective and inequitable voucher program, the letter urges legislators to “redirect those public funds to the public school system in order to improve educational opportunity for students with disabilities, foster care students, and students from low-income families.”

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24

Today is an important day in the history of education in the United States. Federal courts had ordered the schools of Little Rock to admit nine black students. Crowds of white supremacists gathered to block their entry. On this day, Governor Orval Faunus called up the National Guard to prevent the black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School.

From Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac”:

It was on this day in 1957 that Arkansas governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to bar nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to make sure they could enroll. A few days later, Eisenhower made a prime-time, live televised speech to the nation in which he said, “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.

President Eisenhower proceeded to nationalize the Arkansas National Guard and directed them to protect the nine black students.

From Wikipedia:

By 1957, the NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance.[2] Called the “Little Rock Nine”, they were Ernest Green (b. 1941), Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941), Jefferson Thomas (1942–2010), Terrence Roberts (b. 1941), Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942), Minnijean Brown (b. 1941), Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942), Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940), and Melba Pattillo Beals (b. 1941). Ernest Green was the first African American to graduate from Central High School.

When integration began in September 4, 1957, the Arkansas National Guard was called in to “preserve the peace”. Originally at orders of the governor, they were meant to prevent the black students from entering due to claims that there was “imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace” at the integration. However, President Eisenhower issued Executive order 10730, which federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered them to support the integration on September 23 of that year, after which they protected the African American students.

The students endured mobs of hateful whites, screaming at them and shouting curses and insults.

White racists soon realized they had lost in the courts, but got their wishes by abandoning public schools and moving to the suburbs.

In time, the Little Rock School District became majority black. Now it is under state control, a fate that is often imposed on majority nonwhite districts, crippling local control and removing a path to political power for those who are not white.

Little Rock will forever be a symbol of white racism and of the courage and political will required to combat racism.