Class Weeps with Joy as Sarah Huckabee Sanders Saves Their School…Then a Progressive Group Steps In
Under Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas is taking control of failing public schools away from left-wing teachers unions in a bid to bolster academic performance.
Liberal activists are protesting the move, which is authorized by the Arkansas LEARNS Act, a law designed to raise the quality of education in underperforming school districts.
In April, the state Board of Education took control of the Marvell-Elaine School District and directed Education Secretary Jacob Oliva to enter a “transformation contract” that would enable a qualified third-party entity — such as a charter school management company — to operate the district, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The purpose is to boost academic performance since the current scheme is failing.
The rural Marvell-Elaine School District has 306 students, 92 percent of whom are black, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.
Both Marvell Elementary School and Marvell High School are “F”-rated because their students received the lowest scores for academic achievement in the state.
The district has an average math proficiency score of 6 percent (well below the Arkansas public school average of 36 percent) and an average reading proficiency score of 7 percent (versus 37 percent statewide).
Not only was the education quality abysmal, but the school district was in financial shambles.
“Marvell-Elaine was also in fiscal distress from April 2019 to September 2021,” the Arkansas Advocate reported in April.
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“Marvell-Elaine was scheduled to be consolidated due to low enrollment under the nearly 20-year-old Public Education Reorganization Act, which requires the state Education Department to consolidate districts whose daily average membership falls below 350 for two consecutive years,” it said.
Under the LEARNS Act signed by Sanders in March, Marvell-Elaine would escape closure and avoid consolidation if it partnered with an open-enrollment public charter school or another “state board-approved entity in good standing to create ‘a public school district transformation campus,’” according to the Advocate.
The move was applauded by schoolchildren, parents and administrators last month.
Sanders shared a commentary by Martin Rawls, a Marvell resident and educator, that said “cheers rang out when the decision was made by the board to enter into a transformational contract.”
“As soon as the news broke, I was thrilled to announce to the second-grade class that their school was staying open,” Rawls wrote. “Happy tears were shed and hugs were received.”
Arkansas LEARNS will allow the Marvell-Elaine school district to stay open, launching a new era of prosperity & quality education for every kid in the district.
“We have no choice but to change things up and save our children.”
⁰From Marvell resident and educator @Mrawls23 ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/6E4y8ncYGC
— Sarah Huckabee Sanders (@SarahHuckabee) May 22, 2023
A major concern with consolidation is it would mean longer bus rides for students, many of whom commute 20 to 40 miles a day to attend Marvell-Elaine’s two schools.
The state board voted to keep Marvell-Elaine open under a transformation contract, a provision of the new LEARNS Act.
The district can partner w/ an open-enrollment public charter or another approved entity to create a “transformation campus.”
Story coming for @ArkAdvocate pic.twitter.com/NA8saeVknM
— Antoinette Grajeda (@AG_Reports) April 13, 2023
Two weeks ago, however, activists filed a lawsuit to block the handover of the Marvell-Elaine School District to the Friendship Education Foundation, a charter school management company.
The plaintiffs are five individuals and an organization called the Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, who claim they’re worried about the cost of the “transformation contract” with the charter school management company.
“The Plaintiffs, who are members of Concerned Citizens of the Marvell Area, are concerned that cost of the transformation contract, which would be $250,000 and $200,000 per year after that, to be paid out of the Marvell-Elaine School District budget, will reduce the funds available for providing educational resources to Marvell-Elaine students,” the complaint says.
“This concern is especially critical for a small district like Marvell-Elaine, which has many of the same overhead costs as larger districts but has fewer students and therefore receives less per-student foundation funding to cover those costs,” it says.
This is a laughable argument since Marvell-Elaine already has financial problems despite having the “highest expense per student in the state, at more than $16,000 per student and the lowest overall student achievement rates,” according to the Democrat-Gazette.
Paying a charter school management company $250,000 a year is a massive savings compared with the $4,896,000 currently budgeted for Marvell-Elaine.
And because the district’s academic performance is the lowest in the state of Arkansas, things could only get better under different management.
Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Sanders, told KARK-TV in Little Rock the lawsuit is meritless and nothing more than a cheap power play.
“Democrats and liberal activists in this state are playing politics with kids’ futures while trying to protect the failed status quo,” Henning said.
They should be ashamed of themselves.