By Dmitriy Synkov/Photo via Bill Kopsky (@bkopsky)
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“Public education is working in Arkansas, and it doesn’t need intervention from an outside entity.” This was the message heard loud and clear at the State Capitol in Little Rock last week, when education activists showed up to denounce a bill that would have privatized districts with low-performing schools.
The 300+ person rally — a congregation of educators, administrators, parents, students, and concerned community members — turned into an impromptu celebration when it was announced on Tuesday, March 17, that Republican Rep. Bruce Cozart had pulled the bill due to the staggering public outcry against it. The bill will not be brought up again this session.
The rally was held in opposition to House Bill 1733, introduced by Cozart, who admitted that it was pitched to him by the Walton Family Foundation, a proponent of private school vouchers. The bill would have allowed for the privatization of entire districts deemed to be in “academic distress” and the waiving of teaching-related standards and qualifications.
To summarize, HB-1733 would have:
- Allowed the state government to close local schools
- Dissolved elected school boards permanently
- Forced children to attend corporate-run charter schools
- Implemented weaker standards and unproven strategies
“It would have been a sad day for public education and for Arkansas,” said public school teacher and president of the Arkansas Education Association Brenda Robinson. Robinson added:
We know that when schools are privatized it’s not good for the community, who will lose their involvement and their voice in public education. And it’s not good for children, who will suffer from dumbed down standards and the unproven track record of private schools.
Public education activists banded together in opposition to the bill to get it withdrawn. Multiple groups throughout the state, including Little Rock’s PTA members, mobilized via email, social media, and a press conference the night before the rally.
In addition to the protesters who showed up at the steps of the Capitol, Cozart claimed to have received more than 3,000 emails and “countless calls” against the proposal. Cozart was also reportedly pressured by the Walton family, owners of the multi-billion dollar Walmart corporation, to pull the bill after the public outcry.
“This was a huge victory for public education,” said Robinson, especially in light of who was behind it. The Walton Family Foundation has pushed similar legislation through multiple lobby groups — but this attack is not unique to Little Rock, or to Arkansas, said Robinson. “I expect them to forge ahead in another way.”
So what can education activists do to prepare in their state? “You have to rally the troops, get the community involved, get parents involved, take a stand,” said Robinson, stressing the immense impact that activists’ voices had in getting the proposal shut down. “We are for public schools and we make a difference. We in Arkansas know what’s best for our children.”