- Ron DeSantis has run the Florida education system into the ground.
- Sarah Sanders is copying the DeSantis plan as she executes her own playbook here in Arkansas.
- Whitewashing history, universal vouchers, and far-right propaganda content in classrooms are three moves that happened in Florida and are happening now in Arkansas.
It’s hard to ignore the gradual decline of our state’s education system under the Sanders administration. The recent deletion of AP African American Studies from Arkansas schools pushes us to a point of no return. The decline is reminiscent of another state with an extremist leader: Florida.
Florida’s education problems are massive and still growing. Sadly, Arkansas is not far behind. “Education, not indoctrination” has been a battle cry of propaganda from both Ron DeSantis and our own Sarah Sanders.
Florida’s “Stop-Woke Act” & Arkansas LEARNS
Last year Florida passed the “Stop-Woke Act”, which was challenged in court and picked apart by a federal judge. In January 2023, the DeSantis administration eliminated an AP African American studies course, claiming it “significantly lacks educational value.” DeSantis doubled down on this illogical racism, stating the course was a Trojan horse for indoctrination of left-wing ideology.
Last week, the Sanders administration followed suit with the last-minute elimination of AP African American Studies from the approved list of AP courses. The responses from Sanders’ people, the Arkansas Department of Education, and the Education Secretary Jacob Oliva are very similar to the way DeSantis defended his own actions. ADE’s official statement calls the course “not a history course.” It goes on to invoke an Arkansas statute passed in the LEARNS Act that prohibits indoctrination.
In March Ron DeSantis signed into law an all-out voucher system for the state of Florida. Parents can reportedly receive over $8,000 in public money to take their child to a private school.
The LEARNS Act in Arkansas set us on a three-year plan to universal vouchers. This school year has begun with about 5,000 students in the voucher program. The Arkansas Advocate reports “38% are students with disabilities, 32% are first-time kindergarteners, 6% are foster children, 4% are children of active duty members, 1% are students experiencing homelessness and 1% are students enrolled in a “F”-rated school or school in need of Level 5 support.”
Just last month, African American history standards were changed to teach students that enslaved people benefited from their enslavement. Again, DeSantis defended the decision to whitewash African American history in Florida schools.
Sanders and her allies are combing through the AP African American Studies curriculum and directing students to a course they endorse: African American History. This distinction matters to ADE because they not only want to control which classes are offered, but also the content of the classes which remain available. We will wait to see the ways the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and perhaps even Arkansas-specific stories like the Elaine Massacre will be taught in our schools, but we fear ADE will continue to follow the Florida playbook and minimize the horrors of slavery.
Passing Out Right-wing Propaganda
The latest of Florida’s curriculum controversies regards the inclusion of videos by PragerU, a media company that’s pumped out right-wing propaganda since 2009. This company’s content is anything but balanced. The homepage of the PragerU website features a video about slavery by Candace Owens and another video titled “How Multiculturalism is Fracturing America.” Most videos on the PragerU website promote “Judeo-Christian values”, talking about the Ten Commandments and other religious topics. They even wade into theological gender debates with a video entitled “Why God is a He.”
These videos are on an approved list of videos to show in classes in the state of Florida. Compare this to the determination that AP African American studies is “significantly lacking in educational value.” The priorities are clear, and the reality is sad for Florida students.
As far as we know, public students in Arkansas are not being shown PragerU material. But we can’t forget the time Sarah Sanders passed out Ben Carson’s picture book in a Helena elementary school. “God lives in us through our faith, shining brightly our own way,” Carson writes. These books were distributed on one of her first official trips as Governor.
Arkansas Students Deserve Better
Sanders is playing culture war games with the future of Arkansas students. Her moves create state overreach and authoritarian governance, and they’re bad for every Arkansan, no matter where you fall on social issues. Keep telling Sanders you want the education system our kids deserve, not the one that’s already failing Florida students.