How LEARNS is Already Failing Arkansas' Students and Schools – and What You Can Do About It
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to social media this month to lob insults at all of the 53,000 Arkansans who signed the petition to put LEARNS on the ballot, calling us “self-serving partisan extremists.” I take issue with that, and you should, too.
Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students — which I and other Rural Caucus members helped launch, and thousands of you have volunteered with — just barely missed the gargantuan goal of gathering over 53K signatures to get LEARNS on the ballot. In fact, we were less than 1,000 signatures short.
The petition response from Arkansas educators, parents, and supporters of public schools proves that this issue is anything but partisan. Some of the state’s most Republican-leaning counties are where we collected the most signatures at drive-through signing events.
And Arkansans who didn’t sign may already be regretting that decision.
The new school year has brought us TWO of the worst education changes in recent Arkansas history.
The first, of course, is the LEARNS Act.
Our efforts to postpone and possibly undo the LEARNS Act are ongoing, but in the meantime we’re already dealing with the consequences of this new policy.
Included in LEARNS is the Educational Freedom Account Program (EFA), which the state misrepresented as a program that would help pay educational expenses and make private schools accessible to underprivileged students — specifically students living in severe poverty or attending “F”- rated public schools, where students face the greatest risk of poor education.
Now, we know that over 4,000 students have been accepted into the new EFA program, and we know that only 2% of those students are experiencing extreme poverty or currently attending one of Arkansas’s most under-performing schools.
Learn more about the roll-out of Arkansas’ EFA program in this report by nonprofit independent news outlet Arkansas Advocate.
Even worse: At least one private school participating in the EFA program has admitted to raising the cost of tuition by almost 50%, further limiting enrollment to students from wealthy families, and creating a financial bind for some families whose children are already enrolled.
All of this confirms what we already knew: “Educational Freedom” is an intentional misnomer — gaslighting on a grand scale by SHS and her spin team. The program is a voucher scam, nothing more than a handout to private schools and the wealthy families who were already paying for private education.
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Unfortunately, this isn’t the only state decision negatively impacting students as they headed back to school this week.
Week before last, high school students taking AP African American Studies — a course that carries college credit for students who pass the end-of-year AP exam, like any other AP course — learned that the state pulled its approval of the course at the last possible minute.
Now, under the new state education policy, instead of recognizing this as a college-level course with ‘core’ credits that count toward high school graduation, schools may only count the course as an elective, and the state will no longer pay for students to take the AP exam for college credit.
Although six larger school districts are pushing back and offering the course and exam anyway, most students at Arkansas public schools are effectively being banned from learning about actual history studied through any lens that isn’t white. This is an unacceptable decision, to put it mildly.
Colleges are also pushing back. The University of Arkansas, for example, announced it will
continue to provide the college credit to any student who pays for and passes the AP exam.
Parents are calling Arkansas' Secretary of Education, Jacob Oliva, to demand the state pay the exam fee for all students who qualify — just as the state does for every other AP exam.
We encourage you to join these parents by calling Mr. Oliva at 501-682-4203 or by emailing him at Jacob.Oliva@ade.arkansas.gov, to let him know that come voting time, you will remember the SHS administration’s discriminatory moves that put Arkansas students at a disadvantage by denying their access to a broadly accepted and nationally recognized college-level course.
CAPES and the Rural Caucus will continue monitoring all the impacts of LEARNS.
Access to affordable, adequate public education should not be political, but as long as the state continues to harm our students’ futures, CAPES and the Rural Caucus will be here to keep you updated and to let you know how you can help protect our students, schools, and communities.
You have my word.
By the Numbers:
77 days until candidate filing for 2024 opens
197 days until the 2024 Arkansas primary