State ‘Reform’ of K-12 Even Impacts Higher Ed

Official portrait of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

AEA’s Fleming Speaks to Sanders’ Education Bill

The Arkansas Education Association is encouraging its members to contact their state senators and representatives to voice their concerns about the education package of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Speed is crucial, as the momentum to pass the measure quickly and with few changes is strong.

The Republican calls the multipart, 144-page bill LEARNS for Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and Safety. It is Senate Bill 294.

While Local 965 is the labor union for the University of Arkansas and affiliated with the AEA, we urge your consideration because this will impact all of us. Indeed, many UA employees are parents. Children coursing through a Sanders K-12 universe will move, ready or not, to studying on our Fayetteville campus. And, proposed legislation directed toward higher ed logically could follow SB294.

Our details how to find the names of your legislators. You of course don’t need to be a member to use our website or contact your legislator, but any UA employee is welcome to join.

The AEA has to date — Sanders gave an outline Feb. 8, 2023, and the legislation was introduced on Monday, Feb. 20 — issued two statements on the measure.

The first, issued Feb. 9, is the news release “Educators: There Are Higher Priorities for Improving Public Schools than Voucher Schemes.” It says the bill “would increase teachers’ salaries in exchange for implementing unpopular and destructive voucher schemes. … Vouchers take scarce funding away from public schools and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to the public.”

Carol Fleming
Carol Fleming

AEA’s other statement, issued by its president, Carol Fleming, was quoted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in its Feb. 21 article “Early Reaction to Arkansas Education Bill Mixed” (if paywall, here’s an alternate link to the article). Fleming — speaking Tuesday from Little Rock by Zoom to a meeting of the Springdale Education Association, attended by Local 965 Vice President Ben Pollock and At-large Board Member Chris Goering — said the newspaper quoted her fully. That is as follows:

Carol Fleming, president of the Arkansas Education Association school employee union, said Monday night that some of the provisions in the bill had been previously publicized, but without details.
“There are even more questions now that the precise language has been drafted and filed,” Fleming said.
“While there are many new programs to be introduced, there are still many details lacking. Some of those include the recruitment and retention of educators in our state when it appears the salary schedule for teachers has been eliminated. How will we be able to attract the best and brightest to Arkansas with no guarantee of future employment or salary advancement?”
Fleming said she regretted that the voices of the association — established in 1869 as an advocate for student and educator rights — were not included in the crafting of the bill.
She also expressed concerns about plans by state lawmakers to act quickly on the bill, leaving constituents with as few as 36 hours to review its contents and assess the impact before the bill goes to the Senate Education Committee.
“While we support expanded early intervention, literacy and tutoring, we are concerned about individuals being able to access those services — particularly through the availability of transportation,” Fleming said.
“There is no doubt that educator pay should be increased. While there is a focus on increasing the starting pay for certified teachers, there has been an oversight on increasing pay for support staff,” she said, calling that a concern and contrary to earlier plans.
“Other sections of the bill have raised questions, praise and consternation from our members. We hope to be able to discuss these with Governor Sanders, [Education Secretary Jacob Oliva] and the sponsors of the LEARNS Act bill,” she also said.

A range of organizations, from ACLU of Arkansas to NWA Equality as well as the AEA, are planning a “Stand for AR Rights Rally” in Little Rock on the Capitol steps at noon Thursday, Feb. 23. All are invited.

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