Crowd rallies outside Capitol in support of public education

By: - February 15, 2023 5:31 pm
Bill Kopsky, executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel,

Bill Kopsky, executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, talks about the governor’s proposed education legislation during a rally Wednesday. Groups concerned with public education rallied on the steps of the State Capitol. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

As the mother of a mostly non-verbal, autistic four-year-old, Special Sanders said she wants to be her son’s advocate. He begins kindergarten in the fall, so she’s paid close attention to the governor’s proposed education plan, Arkansas LEARNS.

“Much has been said about the so-called parent empowerment that Arkansas LEARNS offers, but I’ve never seen anything to indicate that type of choice for my family,” she said.

Special Sanders and Arkansas Education Association president Carol Fleming participate in a public school rally
Special Sanders (middle) holds a sign while Arkansas Education Association President Carol Fleming (bottom right) speaks about the governor’s proposed education legislation. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Sanders spoke at a rally hosted by Citizens First Congress, Arkansas Education Association and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Wednesday afternoon on the Capitol steps. Sanders is a literacy specialist in Pine Bluff and said she previously worked as a paraprofessional and teacher.

A lifelong resident of southeast Arkansas, Sanders has mixed feelings about the governor’s yet-to-be-filed education bill. While she supports increasing teacher pay, she is dissatisfied with no mention of special education families and their needs, and is opposed to unlimited charter schools and private school vouchers.

“Instead of diverting funds from public schools for her 21st century school segregation plan, Gov. Sanders should work to properly fund public schools that hire much-needed special education teachers and special education support staff in Arkansas because despite the belief of some of our Arkansas legislators, the schools that need the most support have not been funded in an equitable manner,” she said.

Arkansas Public Policy Panel executive director Bill Kopsky led the event, which was attended by more than 40 people. APPP’s members are big supporters of quality public education and are concerned about parts of the governor’s education proposal, Kopsky said. 

“The problems with her proposal are so massive that they’ll really undermine the few positive elements that it has,” he said. “And even the positive elements at this moment are really more talking points that don’t have funding commitments or any other detail, so it’s hard to know what to make of them yet.”

Arkansas public education rally
Interested citizens and groups concerned with public education rallied Wednesday, on the steps of the State Capitol. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Kopsky said it’s important for Arkansans to understand how the bill could affect them and “potentially undermine the public schools that they rely on in their communities and defund the schools that their children rely on.”

Carol Fleming, a speech language pathologist in the Little Rock School District serving as president of the Arkansas Education Association, said public funds should stay with public schools. 

“When we provide that funding, we are raising the salaries which will recruit and retain the highest qualified educators to our schools who will ensure that we are properly educating our children, providing them the support services that they need and giving them the opportunity to grow, to think, to be creative so that they will become individuals who will be able to live and succeed in an interdependent and diverse world,” Fleming said. 

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders last week unveiled some details of her long-awaited education plan, which includes raising the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 and rolling out a new school voucher program that will provide state funding for parents to enroll their children in public, private and parochial schools or homeschool. 

The Republican governor also said the legislation would include limits on race and sexual education, saying Arkansas won’t teach kids “what to think, but how to think.”

Legislation addressing the governor’s education proposals has not been filed.


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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.