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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: The education agenda

by John Brummett | November 22, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Our new governor's focus, they tell me, will be education, to which some of you just said, "Oh, dear."

The recent power play in the state Senate to allow only two Democrats on standing committees ... that was, according to some, all about being certain of passing education measures. But others say it would have been done for the joy of simple partisan muscling even without the education factor.

If Sarah Sanders' campaign is to be believed, and I personally found it hard to believe, an education focus will mean that teachers will be commanded by legislation to stop indoctrinating our children with propaganda from the radical left.

That shouldn't be hard to stop on account of it not ever starting.

But the bill might include penalties for teachers if a youngster came home downcast and asked mommy if it was true what they said in school about the Civil War being fought over Black people who were kept as slaves by white people like us in places like here.

The Oklahoma Legislature, which is too nearby and similar for comfort, passed a bill essentially saying teachers could get fired because a child went home pensive and burdened by thinking.

There likely will be a bill sprung up from the Republican super-majority to keep teachers from turning young children in the early grades into gays and lesbians, which also isn't happening and isn't how sexual orientation gets formulated.

If there is evidence of an 8-year-old deciding to become homosexual after hearing a reference in school to "two mommies" or "two daddies," then I am unaware of it. I am doubtful that the child knows at that point much about those powerful instincts that will begin introducing themselves before too very long.

Aside from that kind of primitive DeSantian nonsense, which will likely pass on the basis that it will be introduced and Republican legislators will be afraid to vote against it, the first emphasis--I'm advised--will be reading.

And, I'm further advised, "reading" as an emphasis will not be euphemistic for school choice or statewide vouchers but seriously intended for targeted new programs to get the youngest kids reading at grade level so they'll stand a chance.

Nothing sounds wrong with that. Democrats--all 24 of them in the 135-member General Assembly--might go along if the program is absent conservative jargon or other absurdity.

If somebody tries to say that either all kids read by third grade or the school will not be permitted to offer art or music, he will encounter pushback. If somebody tries to say either you read by third grade or the school shall have no ball team--well, what am I saying? That's not going to happen.

Now let's get down to substance: The general fight will have to do with conservative Republican fondness for the notion of blowing up the public-school model for vouchers that would follow a child to whatever school his parents chose and could deliver him to--be it private, charter or an old reliable regular public school perhaps in another community.

Conservative Republican thought holds that those regular public schools have failed in many cases and otherwise lacked incentive to get better. It holds that poor and disadvantaged kids, rather than blessed with a nearby school, are often cursed by having no option other than the regular public school down the way that failed their parents, siblings, cousins and friends.

This will be no lay-down hand.

The irony in Arkansas is that, while rural voters have overwhelmingly voted for conservative Republican legislators holding notions of vouchers, choice and competition in public education, those same white rural voters tend to embrace their local public school, its superintendent and its ball teams.

Efforts have been made in the recent past in the majority-Republican Legislature to order up vouchers and school choice. But all that's been passed is a capped-funding bill to set up a few scholarships offering school-choice vouchers to low-income children.

Left-of-center thinking abhors the idea of destroying public education rather than focusing on it to improve it. It abhors leaving behind the kids who can't exercise the choice, stranding them in regular public schools that have been drained of resources by lost students.

But the thus-far successful resistance in Arkansas has come, first, from practicality. Where are all these schools out there for a rural-Arkansas kid to get to by 8 a.m.? And it has come, second, from the rural political culture. Small-school superintendents are powerful. The football team is, along with the Baptist church, the heart of the community.

Meantime, there are percolating ideas in the Legislature for merit pay for teachers, which mainly allows a principal to play favorites. But the separate idea of providing extra incentive pay out of the state portion of the school funding formula, and directing it to excelling teachers who would work in poor and underperforming districts ... that might actually help us get to where we started, which was learning to read.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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