LEARNS passes but is outshined by educators, the governor wrecks anyone who opposes her plan, the Senate says bananas stuff, and more!
But first some news: You can now get our weekly Arleg roundups in podcast form! Check it out.
Educators steal the LEARNS show
Hundreds of educators from across the state flooded the Capitol on Tuesday to stand up for their public schools. House education committee took up the LEARNS act that same morning at 9am, and arleg members used the entire morning to ask questions of the House bill sponsors, Rep. Keith Brooks, and Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva.
Questions were a step up from the previous week in Senate education, likely because members had time to read and digest the bill’s language, and receive feedback from constituents and critical stakeholders like public school teachers and administrators. Several Republicans expressed deep concerns with the bill, especially around merit pay programming, vouchers, and voucher system providers.
But the educators who piled into the committee room and spilled out into the lobby of the Big Mac building are the ones who stole the show. We talked with teachers and administrators from Russellville, Bauxite, Wynne, Rogers, Bryant, Cabot, Searcy, Mountain View, Nettleton, West Memphis, Springdale, Stuttgart, Pune Bluff, NLR, Bradford, Sherwood, Ozark, Dardanelle, Conway, Paris and more. They showed up and showed out.
Some educators got up at 3:30am to drive to the Capitol to testify, but the committee did not get to the public until after 2:30 pm. To House Education Chair Brian Evans’s credit, he announced that every person who signed up to speak would be heard. Public testimony went until after 9:00 p.m. A clear theme emerged from educator testimony: do a better job of funding public schools, especially SPED programs. If money is removed from public schools, kids who are already struggling will be left behind.
The committee bumped the vote on LEARNS to the following day, Wednesday. The bill passed on a voice vote. Several Arleg members choked up during their reasoning for voting “for,” citing serious concerns they have with the bill. Ultimately, as some members communicated, they would vote “yes” because they trust that the legislature can fix whatever goes wrong with LEARNS implementation.
Superintendent stands up to abuse of power
Despite elected leaders’ best efforts to silence Jordan Frizzell, Superintendent of Star City, Frizzell refused to back down. It’s pretty heroic.
We asked Frizzell how he feels about Governor Sanders and Senator Breanne Davis’ political effort to silence his public comments on LEARNS. “It’s just unbelievable, really. It’s shocking to me they would reach this far,” he said.
The Sanders administration hopes to make Jordan Frizzell The LEARNS Act’s political fall guy. The message the governor is sending is clear: publicly oppose her policies and you will be silenced.
Sanders’ army of arm-twisters have been effective; we’ve heard from multiple public school administrators (who wish to remain anonymous) that they were afraid to speak out against any portion of The LEARNS Act. These administrators, many of whom are in rural districts, are worried about the future of their public schools.
However, their community members will not hear about this worry from their own school leaders, because coercion from the highest levels of our state government has silenced the truth-tellers. Frizzell, however, is the exception. He is very aware of the threat the Sanders administration poses to his future, but he remains resolute in speaking out on the bill.
It’s quite a political risk for the Sanders team, an Arleg state senator, and dark money lobbyists to publicly coerce a hometown son of southeast Arkansas. To be clear, Frizzell did not break any district policy when he allowed leave for two employees to attend Sen. Education Committee. Both employees went to committee per an invitation from AEA. It is well within a superintendent’s authority to allow professional leave for employees’ educational benefit. These actions are not political to Frizzell. “It is the opposite of political. Teachers were fighting for their public schools. If that’s not educational, I don’t know what is.”
Governor’s office arm twisting reaches into Legislature
Last week on representative reported that legislators were threatened to vote “yes” on LEARNS bill or face risk of losing funding for their House districts. Republican Jim Wooten of Beebe told a crowd of educators that he would vote “no” on The LEARNS Act. “I’m voting no because wrong is wrong and right is right,” he said. According to Wooten, threats have been made to certain House lawmakers regarding their position on the bill. Wooten told the group that he’s heard from members that funding would be withheld from districts if they vote “no” on The LEARNS Act. This is not the first LEARNS-related threat that has been reported.
As the 94th General Assembly plows ahead, there are concerns that under the Sanders administration, representatives must toe the party line. Arm-twisting by the administration is meant to silence the public and bully legislators, just like they tried with Jordan Frizzell. To some extent, the coercion is working.
LEARNS ultimately passes the House but had bipartisan opposition, with 22 legislators voting against the bill. Due to House amendments, the bill returns to the Senate a final time before it heads to the governor’s desk.
- Intransitive calls out the Family Council for hypocrisy regarding sexual abuse of minors.
- During Senate commentary on a bill allowing children as young as 13 to work without a permit requirement, Senator Gary Stubblefield said John Adams served as ambassador to Great Britain when he was 13 years old. Fact check: John Adams was 49 when he was ambassador. So close.
- Senator Terry Rice confused the word “tweak” with “twerk,” and it was hilarious.
- Senator Dee’s bill banning non-existent absentee ballot drop boxes was pulled for amendments.
- Senator Sullivan’s higher education “free speech” bill fails, and Hannah is stoked about it.
- A Senate committee passed a sneaky unconstitutional, “non-constitutional amendment” to make it harder for community-led ballot initiatives to get approved. Expect legal challenges.
- Senator Payton’s cruel anti-trans bathroom bill is pulled from Senate floor for amendments. The bill would criminalize trans people using public restrooms.
- Senators Blake Johnson and Jim Dotson incorrectly said our government is a republic, not a democracy. Fact check: it’s both. We are a representative democracy.