LEARNS opponents ‘Just Say No’ in Arkadelphia

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

The first of many rallies against Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ educational reform was held Thursday in Arkadelphia, where a non-partisan grassroots organization assembled to address their concerns with the Arkansas LEARNS Act.

The event, held at the Arkadelphia Community Family Enrichment Center, drew a diverse crowd of about 60 citizens, mostly educators, parents and students from seven area school districts as far away as Murfreesboro and Glen Rose.

The Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) is a statewide organization hoping to gather enough signatures to place on a ballot a reversal of the governor’s reform. Once the 94th General Assembly officially adjourns in May, CAPES will have 90 days to collect some 55,000 signatures from 50 Arkansas counties to place the referendum on a ballot. They will begin collecting signatures once Attorney General Tim Griffin approves language for the ballot title; the group on Thursday had submitted its second version of the title after Griffin rejected the first referendum.

Arkadelphia was one of eight locations in Arkansas where CAPES rallied Thursday evening.

Leading the charge in Arkadelphia was Johnnie Roebuck, a former state representative and retired professor at Henderson State University’s Teachers College. Borrowing a slogan from the 1980s Reagan-led war on drugs campaign, Roebuck pleaded with those in attendance to “just say no” to the LEARNS Act. 

Roebuck offered a history of past educational legislation that was successfully overturned, including the state-mandated Skills Test that required teachers to prove their basic academic skills. That mandate was backed by then-Gov. Bill Clinton; Roebuck was one of nine educators who successfully sued Clinton, a fellow Democrat who would later acknowledge the tests were a mistake and ask forgiveness from the Arkansas Educators Association and for for their support in his presidential run. It appears that history has repeated itself, as Sanders, who’ll likely use her governorship as a stepping stone for a presidential bid, has many public school educators up in arms over the LEARNS Act.

“How will this work? Where are you getting the money? What losses will our public schools face? How many employees will we lose?”

— Parent of an Arkadelphia special education student

Roebuck also made mention of the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, which requires school districts to give teachers written notice of any suspension or termination of their contracts. The LEARNS Act, Roebuck noted, will diminish that law and harm teachers.

Arkansas legislators, Roebuck said, have acknowledged they supported Sanders’ reform “because they had to” to avoid repercussions from Sanders. “We’ve got to stand up,” Roebuck said. “Votes have consequences.”

Tyler Draper

Several others spoke out against the LEARNS Act, including one area school teacher. Tyler Draper, a science teacher at Lakeside Junior High School, argued that segregation will be an inevitable result of Sanders’ reform, and that the wealthy will be given priority for private school vouchers as happened with similar educational reform in Arizona.

An Arkadelphia mother whose adolescent child has special needs also voiced concerns about the law. (Ed: In order to shield the student’s identity, The Arkadelphian did not identify the parent.) She first praised the school district’s special education teachers who have helped advance his reading and math levels to reach his grade level. LEARNS, however, will push for “inclusion classrooms” and draw attention to special needs students, as their special education teachers will be in the classroom to assist their students in the same classroom as other students.

LEARNS, she fears, will invest more in nontraditional schools that are required neither to meet special education needs nor to accept all students.

“How will this work?” she said. “Where are you getting the money? What losses will our public schools face? How many employees will we lose?”

Dr. Kenneth Harris

Kenneth Harris, an Arkadelphia school board member who’s asked questions about the act in board meetings, took issue with the LEARNS Act not addressing early childhood education. “How can we leave out such a critical part of a child’s life and it not be addressed?” Harris said.

Arkadelphia pastor Rev. Lewellyn Terry addressed the act’s effects on a community. Terry echoed Draper’s comments about racial divide returning to public schools, adding the act will “aggressively” revert back to segregation. “If we look at the LEARNS Act, it is not beneficial for us,” Terry said, encouraging citizens to “read the fine print [of the act] slow and steady.”

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6 replies »

  1. I ain’t sure if this necessitates a full repeal, when there’s also a process for ballot initiatives to add regulations on top of LEARNS. I think if parents want to send their children to private school, they should be able to and have the financial ability to do that, and if they decide to send them to public school, they should have adequate funding. I take a third way on this issue; I support school choice, as long as it’s well regulated and doesn’t defund public schools. Laissez-faire privatization won’t work, but neither will a government monopoly. Americans need to come back to the middle and work together to find solutions instead of playing partisan, zero sum games.

    • Public tax money should not be spent on religious school. Period. End of discussion. This bill worsens an already vast education spending problem and a full repeal is necessary. Maybe you weren’t paying attention when the governor shoved this down the peoples’ throats. She has no middle.

      • Not all private schools are religious schools, but I’m not sure if I agree with the idea the government should discriminate against schools for being religious, especially since the far-left banned religion, prayer, etc. from public schools. Parents should be allowed to give their children a religious education. But neither party supports religious liberty anymore. The Democrats shut down churches because of Covid (or so they claim), while the Republicans enshrine evangelical fundamentalism into law (such as anti-LGBT laws), and when it comes to education, it’s also state Atheism vs theocracy — with no option for secularism (what most Americans support). I’m closer to the Libertarian side on religious liberty: the government shouldn’t interfere. School vouchers have been upheld by the courts numerous times, but this still isn’t an issue that necessitates a full repeal, if you could add regulations prohibiting religious use.

        I’m not sure if you’re trying to say education spending is too much or little, but I believe we should tax the rich to provide more funding to public schools, especially in rural areas. I hope this, at least, is something the Democrats could agree with me on… the Republicans certainly don’t.

        I don’t know where the assertion I somehow support Sarah Huckabee Sanders came from, as I voted for the Libertarian candidate. I’m a center-right ex-Republican, so I’m not enthusiastic about someone who wants the government to tell gay and trans people how to live our lives — not to mention issues like marijuana, child labor, etc. I certainly agree she’s not a moderate. The Republicans are far-right and the Democrats are far-left. (The Democrats had the opportunity to nominate a moderate and deliberately chose not to.) Of course, I’m open to voting for the repeal merely as a return to the status quo, rather than any movement to the extremes — I’m simply disappointed with the constant far-left or far-right dichotomy.

  2. Wonderful article! I hope everyone reads and then rereads the act to see what it is actually doing! Be informed of what is going on in our schools and around our state! Use your voices to be heard!

  3. America spends by far, the most $$$ on education and gets far less positive results than any other country–it definitely appears the “old” way of American education isn’t working. This is what happens when discipline and morals are taken out of education. I’m sure the AEA is far more worried about the “not so fair” teacher dismissal act being eliminated by far the most troublesome part of this bill–after all, the AEA has our student’s best interest at heart–like they have for the past decades. (pun)

  4. Something to consider: As our world is in chaotic transition and many want to be heard yet are not interested in listening to other viewpoints; I agree with LGC, Zac, AMJ, on many points. Leslie has a stellar suggestion. Read the article and become informed. Most of all, use your voices to be heard. To be effective, VOTE and spend your money with people and products you value within our local economy. Most of all, be reasonable and peaceable! It is very easy to pass the buck and blame someone else for the problems we now face from generations gone past. I never hear anyone say, “Let’s fund parents to stay home and teach our children.” I observe lots of parents complain about too much homework, teaching styles, yet do not understand the pressure teachers have to maintain protocol and rules beyond their reach, alone. It’s become normal that someone else teach our children and we wonder why we are divided and the family unit is scattered. Yet, we believe its “our right” to have an education. People, we live in the most information accessible time in our history, yet we are fundamentally misinformed, and our values are not inclusive. When did we become so entitled? From my viewpoint; when we ALL begin to take responsibility, have compassion, and become more in-service to each other, the blame game will die down and those problems will become solutions. We must wake up! Work together in our Republic.