Anyone with a job can relate to widespread problems that continue here in Northwest Arkansas as well: Economic inequality, low wages, persistence of poverty especially among children, and the growing marginalization of working people in public life.
An afternoon of programming to address such issues is being set up for the Ozarks.
The teach-in is an informal forum developed in the mid-1960s to educate on a complex contemporary topic.
“The Teach-In is inspired not only by the activism that we are seeing throughout the nation with teachers, nurses and Amazon workers but also by what people are already doing here in Northwest Arkansas,” co-organizer Michael Pierce said. “Starbucks workers, some of the poultry workers, and many others are starting to stand up for worker rights, better wages and improved conditions.”
“The goal,” Pierce said, “is to bring together working people who want to make their jobs better — to put them in touch with like-minded people, to provide them with tools and access to resources, to hear about successes, and to provide a sense of belonging.”
The Northwest Arkansas Labor Spring Teach-In is part of a series of some 60 similar events being held on or near college and university campuses throughout the United States. Dubbed Labor Spring, these events are organized with the help of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University and the Labor and Working-Class History Association.
By Ben Pollock Vice President UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965
FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Local 965 was represented Saturday with three key members attending the “NWA Rally Uniting with Teachers against the LEARNS Act Scam and for the RAISE Act” on the grounds of Washington County Courthouse. Also, I spoke.
Also attending the rally were Local 965 at-large board member Chris Goering and retired at-large board member Ted Swedenburg.
The late afternoon rally Feb. 25 was to discuss and protest the LEARNS bill (Senate Bill 294), an acronym for Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and Safety, proposed by the new governor, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders. LEARNS is an omnibus package to dramatically change primary and secondary education in Arkansas by incorporating recent GOP principles and talking points.
Filed late Monday the 20th, the Senate passed it by Thursday the 23rd with no amendments. It is expected to move through the House at only a slightly slower pace. The Democrats’ counterproposal, the RAISE Act, was filed Jan. 26 and is stalled.
Hours earlier while painting placards, Billy Cook, vice president of the Washington County Democrats, asked me to be a speaker. Cook had quickly organized this rally and another for Sunday at the courthouse in Bentonville. Waiting even another week obviously could be too late.
I declined because UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965, by serving higher ed employees is not directly affected by Sanders’ proposals. Cook asked me to reconsider, saying, “We’re in Fayetteville. The only person from Fayetteville speaking is Greg Leding.”
The District 30 Democratic senator was to be the keynote. I then relented because the Republican measures on reflection have a strong but indirect impact on postsecondary education. Learning my spot was to be third of some six speakers, I jotted key points on a card.
Leding explained to the crowd that Sanders’ omnibus bill has good points like dramatic teacher salary increases and support for improved learning standards, sore spots like vouchers of public money for charter or private schools or homeschooling, and near zilch on funding it all. He admitted its momentum was strong and asked the crowd of some three dozen to tell friends to contact their legislators.
The second speaker was Corrie Tucker, president of the Springdale Education Association of K-12 public school teachers and support staff. The first-grade teacher detailed key elements of the bill from the points of view of educators, parents and schoolchildren.
My Remarks — Reconstructed from Notes
“I am Ben Pollock, vice president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965. Our union has been here since 1962, yes some 60 years serving the community. Representing higher ed, though, we don’t quite have a dog in this race. The other speakers are addressing elements of the bill. We do have something to say, though, because we live here, pay taxes here, and many of us working at the University of Arkansas are parents.
“Governor Sanders presented an omnibus bill, a collection of related bills. That’s why its 144 pages gets the criticism that there’s too much to carefully consider before committee and floor votes held within a week.
“From both a post-secondary education and community point of view, I see this as an omnibus bill that lies within an omnibus Regular Session. The LEARNS proposal collects many separate measures. Likewise, with strong Republican majorities in both houses, many bills outside of education have a similar interconnection. That is taking us down a risky and even dangerous road.
“First, higher education is logically next on the GOP fix-it list. Once the LEARNS Act passes, it is likely the General Assembly will follow the course of legislatures of other Southern and Midwestern states to focus on restrictions of universities and colleges. States like Florida and Iowa are looking at changing up faculty hiring as well as limits on topics that can be taught to young adults.
“A second aspect is the future of many of these young children whose education will be constricted by the LEARNS Act. Their overall achievement levels, especially in rural areas, stand to be lowered. They are the future students of the various campuses of the University of Arkansas System. Will these eventual graduates of newly created private schools and well-intentioned but lacking homeschools be able to master college-level coursework?
“This omnibus regular session has interconnected bills. That may not be immediately obvious but here is an example. One bill introduced in the House the same day as Senate Bill 294 — that’s the LEARNS Act — is House Bill 1410. It is 2 pages not 144, but it packs a wallop.
“HB 1410 has the title “Youth Hiring Act of 2023,” and it would deliver exactly what it states, an encouragement of youth under age 16 to long and unsafe working hours by repealing the state’s key Child Labor law. In HB1410, youth would no longer need a state work permit, would not need to prove parental consent, and companies would not need to verify the child’s age. These two bills can be seen as connected. Children with now poorer educations might as well work in their middle school years, as their families can see that they won’t be able to make it in college.
“Maybe these measures just happen to all be flowing through these super-majority GOP legislatures. Or maybe the Republicans have a grand plan. But we here today, including UA faculty and support staff, should consider these measures an interconnected whole, because one way or another that is how these new laws with untried ideas will impact all of us.
“It is conceivable that Sanders and the GOP are trying to set the state up as a grand experiment for America, an incubator for the radical right. I think we must keep Arkansas from turning into a socio-economic Petri dish to test these extremes for the nation.”
Essentially all local news media covered the rally. Well, the reporters did their interviews before the program and began packing up after Leding’s speech. Fortunately, they didn’t see me fumbling with the microphone. Here are their reports:
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 arkansas965.org 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.
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.
The Childcare Assistance Program is available to eligible families who live, work or go to school in Fayetteville, thus including both University of Arkansas students and employees. This program will provide help for low- to moderate-income families with childcare expenses.
Eligible participants may receive up to 12 monthly payments for childcare assistance, which will be made directly from the city to licensed childcare facilities in Fayetteville, according to its announcement.
The city of Fayetteville received a total of $17,911,418 in American Rescue Plan Act funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury to help address community needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This program was approved at the Dec. 6, 2022, Fayetteville City Council meeting with an appropriation of $500,000 from the City’s ARPA funding.
Applicants must meet all the following criteria to be considered for eligibility:
Lives, works or goes to school in Fayetteville
Applicant’s child is enrolled in a properly licensed childcare facility located within the city of Fayetteville
Local 965 has been a supporter of the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry on campus. It is closed for winter break and expects to be short-staffed when it opens Monday, Jan. 9, needing volunteers to help staff it through the first week of Spring Semester.
“Full Circle Food Pantry is led by nine student leaders and over 60 volunteers a semester. We are looking for extra hands during the weeks of Jan. 9 and Jan. 17 to help as students transition back to Fayetteville and full-time volunteers begin their semester-long commitment,” according to their announcement.
To help out in the next couple of weeks, sign up for 1- to 2-hour shifts online at the pantry’s GivePulse page. If this is your first time, staff will provide newcomers with a detailed PowerPoint with everything they need to know then do in-person training upon arrival.