Arkansas educators express 'concern' over Sanders’ 'rushed' school choice push

Arkansas educators express 'concern' over Sanders’ 'rushed' school choice push
Arkansa Gov. Sarah H. Sanders, Image via Shutterstock

Arkansas educators and parents are openly expressing concerns around Arkansas Governor Sarah H. Sanders' hasty decision to enforce "school choice," across the majority Republican state, ABC reports.

In spite of the push back, the governor is moving forward with the legislation, as promised during her controversial response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address earlier this month.

"This will be the biggest overhaul in education, I think, anywhere in the country -- certainly in my home state of Arkansas -- and we look forward to setting the standard on how this can be done right and being a blueprint for other states across the country to follow," Sanders said during a recent Fox News interview.

READ MORE: 'Insulting': Right-wingers torch Sarah Huckabee Sanders' State of the Union response

Other GOP leaders, such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, also hails "school choice" as "one of his top priorities" in 2023, according to The Texas Tribune.

Joshua Cowen, an education policy professor at Michigan State University told The Texas Tribune, like Sanders, "The plan that Abbott is proposing really just resembles a typical voucher program, which is essentially taxpayer-funded tuition. The difference between an [education savings account] and a voucher program is essentially all these other expenses could be tacked on to it or used in place of it."

The Texas Tribune reports:

Public education advocates and rural lawmakers have long opposed the voucher programs most often associated with 'school choice,' saying they siphon funds away from public schools. But supporters of education savings accounts, which have spread across the country in the last decade, see them as their best way to harness conservative parents’ discontent with public schools and expand 'school choice' in the state.

Sanders' critics, such as Chair of the Rural Caucus of Arkansas, Steve Grappe said the plan will likely "devastate" Arkansas, convinced "efforts to slow or stop the legislation" is their "only shot."

However, according to ABC News, during her Fox News interview, the governor brushed off critics saying, "the left mad that they're losing control of the system."

READ MORE: Economist Krugman: How Sarah Sanders’ 'diatribe against wokeness' ignored 'regular Americans'

But Grappe contends, "Sanders isn't necessarily thinking about what's best for Arkansas but what's best for her resume."

He continued, "School choice is a national Republican ambition, and I think that Sarah Huckabee Sanders has higher ambitions than a governor. She's trying to prove that Arkansas is the most conservative MAGA state in the country. And I don't think it has anything to do with the welfare of our citizens."

ABC reports:

[Sanders'] bill lumps together dozens of policy changes, such as lifting teachers' starting salaries from the lowest to among the highest in the nation, banning teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity before fifth grade, as well as Critical Race Theory at all levels, and includes an ambitious proposal to install a universal school voucher program in Arkansas within three years -- a move advocates hail and critics warn against.

In December, shortly after Sanders took office, the governor received backlash from Arkansas residents for nominating Florida education official Juan Oliva to head the Arkansas Department of Education, which clearly indicated her intention to mirror the conservative education policies of Florida Governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.

READ MORE: 'Salute their flags': Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears to attack LGBTQ Americans and BLM in SOTU response

Arkansas' 2019 "Teacher of the Year," Stacey McAdoo, wonders whether "teachers were involved in writing the legislation," according to ABC.

"People need time to digest it. I'm still processing everything, " McAdoo said. "I don't think that I've had adequate time to be as prepared and comfortable with what exactly this is and what it means."

Parent of two Little Rock elementary school-aged children, Veronica Paulson, notes "With a bill of this size that fundamentally changes the entire public school system in Arkansas, to give less than 48 hours for the public to review it before brought to the Senate Education Committee for testimony is not fair to the taxpayers of this state."

READ MORE: Fox News host challenges Sarah Huckabee Sanders as she defends first moves as governor

Per ABC, Paulson protested earlier this week with a handful of others in front of the Arkansas governor's mansion, holding signs that read, "public $ for public schools" and "teacher over vouchers."

Democratic Arkansas State Rep.Tippi McCullough, like Grappe, would like to make changes to Sanders' plan before it's passed into law.

The former private school educator said, "she hopes there will be time for amendments in the House before the bill heads to Sanders' desk for signing."

McCullough continued, "This complex bill has been rushed, but after only two days of bipartisan questioning that pointed out serious problems, sponsors promise they are open to amendments. Even though Democrats and educators haven’t been included in the process up to this point, in the spirit of the collaboration that the sponsors continue to tout, it is our hope that there will be a robust process to accept our clarifying and substantive amendments."

ABC's full report is available at this link. The Texas Tribune's report is here.

READ MORE: How a determined Ron DeSantis is trying to 'seize ideological control' of education in Florida: journalist

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