Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveiled her education initiative, Arkansas LEARNS, on Feb. 8, 2023, alongside dozens of state lawmakers. The sweeping education law was one of the main focuses of the 2023 legislative session. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)
The state finds itself in a quandary of its own making as the Arkansas Supreme Court considers arguments for and against blocking enforcement of the Sanders administration’s signature education overhaul law.
Here’s a recap:
All of this legal wrangling could have been avoided had the Sanders administration not been so hellbent on getting its complicated overhaul of Arkansas’ education system in place for the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.
As I and others asked when the bill was hastily introduced and passed: What’s the rush?
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to carefully consider all of the bill’s many moving parts, then pass it (that was never in doubt) with an effective date in time for the 2024-25 school year? As it is, parts of the law don’t take effect until then or later — a fact that helps support the lawsuit’s argument that the law fails the “emergency” test.
But noooo, Sanders and her legislative lackeys needed a big political win, and wanted to own the libs! Woot!
Yes, the law throws a bone to teachers with the minimum $50,000 salary and promises other changes that educators have sought for years. But the bottom line is that the law opens the door to even more unconstitutional spending of tax dollars on private and church-affiliated schools — something that once was anathema to serious lawmakers, Republican and Democrat — all in service of the “school choice” shibboleth.
These changes could have been accomplished in a more orderly and less frantic fashion if the administration and legislators had taken a deep breath and paused to think.
Instead, here we are less than three months from the beginning of the next school year enmeshed in a snarl of argument and counter argument with no clear path forward that will make anyone particularly happy as I see it.
I disagree with the state’s position that Judge Wright’s TRO shuts down the Arkansas Department of Education. Nonsense. It’s one of two behemoth bureaucracies — the other being the Department of Human Services. Implementing or not implementing the LEARNS Act doesn’t affect a large part of the Education Department’s operations.
I disagree with the Marvell-Elaine School District’s position that the TRO prevents educators there from preparing for the coming school year.
Nevertheless, the current legal entanglement fosters confusion and helps propagandists spread disinformation and misinformation.
And all because the Legislature was in a rush to manufacture an emergency that never existed.
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