In my rage against the machine that is artificial intelligence’s ability to isolate each one of us into a bubble with people and ideas that constantly confirm our biases, so that our country is polarizing to the point of civil war, I subscribe to news from sources typically opposed to my way of thinking. These vary from respectable sources all the way down to a few that are a complete sham, such as The Reform Alliance.
Yesterday I was perusing an email newsletter from The Reform Alliance when another educator forwarded the same, with instructions to “read the report card.” So I clicked on the “Report Card” tab under this caption: “We reviewed how legislators voted on education-related legislation and are excited to announce that 67 legislators (about half) received A+ marks!” You can see it for yourself.
What I found there was a list of the education bills presented in the legislature this past year. They are mislabeled as “Student Focused,” when the more accurate description is “Millionaire Focused,” as well, perhaps, as “Urban Focused,” but I digress. Reading on, one encounters a “Legislative Report Card” with a list of legislators, their districts, and how they voted on each of the bills to take public tax money out of the account by which funding is dispersed to public schools, and deliver it into the hands of private entities. This is an intentionally nebulous process, but the principle is actually quite simple.
The “Report Card” reads like satire, except that those who fund The Reform Alliance are completely serious. A few legislators receive average grades for voting unpredictably. Most, however, are divided into the extremes: F for those who voted against all the bills, and A+ for those who voted for, as instructed by The Reform Alliance. The high achievement award, such as it is, apparently goes to half of Arkansas’s legislature, who voted yes to every single bill that decreases funding for our public schools. I imagine the prize is continued campaign donations.
The most stunning part of all of this is that 50% of legislators elected by the people of this state voted against the best interests of 92% of our children. You read that right. We have 473,861 children currently attending Arkansas public schools. The other 8% have parents who exercise their freedom of choice to homeschool or send their kids to private school. And yet, what our legislature did is adopt public policy that benefits this 8% of the population to the detriment of the 92%. It makes no sense in a democracy where politicians actually work for the people. But in a world of greed and corruption, it’s just par for the course.
A+ listers will deny any wrongdoing. They pay lip service to the provisions in some of the bills that extend a few crumbs from the feast at the millionaire table to disadvantaged students and schools. Then they parade these crumb recipients as poster children. But make no mistake: rural people are not invited to the party. There are no crumbs for us. In fact, by design these bills take money away from our local public schools and our kids and put it into private schools our kids will never have the option to attend. And by our kids I mean the vast majority of Arkansas children.
Of further interest on the “Report Card” is to note which districts are represented by The Reform Alliance’s compliant legislators. An urban legislator might possibly contrive an argument for voting to increase vouchers, since at least their constituents conceivably have access to private schools and charters, which are mostly located in urban areas. I was heartened to see, however, that several of our urban lawmakers voted for the good of the whole state, which is primarily rural, and where 92% of all children depend on public schools to get an education. What’s shocking is to grasp how many representatives and senators elected by rural people in small towns all over Arkansas voted against their people. Against their children. Against their schools.
A total of 26 senators out of 35 earned an A+, as did 41 out of 100 representatives. A+ for betraying their constituents. It’s a twisted sort of calculus. Arkansas has only four areas that might be considered urban. The rest is rural. You do the math.
If I sound furious, it is because I am. Some writers see the world through a lens of anger and script everything using that tone. I am not one of those. I’m an author of Christian devotional books and romances, more often accused of seeing life through rose-colored glasses. But I am also a mother, a teacher, and a rural Arkansan. What I really am is hurt. Disappointed that lawmakers entrusted with the privilege of being our voices in Little Rock instead use their positions to benefit only 8% of us. Saddened that our people would continue to elect such weak and venal leaders. Why would we allow a significant amount of money in our state to be spent on 8% of students at the expense of 92%? It is wrong. Why do voters not demand better? If it’s a lack of access to truthful information, we must do all we can to spread the word.
It frustrates me that this issue masquerades as a party thing. It is not. It is a taking-care-of-our-kids thing. If anyone is looking for a cause to get behind, regardless of political party, surely taking care of our kids is the issue to unite us. Or at least 92% of us. In a democracy, that’s more than enough to make a real change.
Gwen Faulkenberry lives, parents, writes and teaches in rural Arkansas. You can read more more of her work here.