Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva declined an invitation from Arkansas CAPES to participate in a town hall with them, and asked that they refer any further correspondence to his attorney.
Oliva is referring here to a lawsuit challenging the effective date of the Arkansas LEARNS Act. Parents and community members in Marvell-Elaine joined CAPES (Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students) members to sue, arguing that because lawmakers did not vote on the emergency clause separately as required by the state constitution, the act is not yet in effect and won’t be until Aug. 1. That means the Arkansas Department of Education does not yet have the authority to hand over the Marvell-Elaine School District to a charter management organization, they say.
CAPES volunteer Veronica McClane shared the exchange between CAPES and Oliva on social media Tuesday, noting that she didn’t plan to go public with it but grew frustrated by how difficult it is to make it to the governor’s town halls about the LEARNS Act, or to log in to watch live feeds.
We weren’t going to publicly post this, but since @Sarahhuckabee and her friends @alexahenning and @JBarkerAR keep gaslighting us about the LEARNS town halls, we would love to know what organizations are allowed to host one? CAPES has been denied a town hall by @ArkansasEd. pic.twitter.com/vWLdUyPqSX
— Citizens for Arkansas Public Education & Students (@arkcapes) June 13, 2023
Oliva has made himself available to speak publicly with other groups, namely the pro-voucher, pro-school choice group Reform Alliance.
And next month, Oliva will be a featured speaker at the Moms for Liberty conference in Philadelphia. The announcement of his speaking engagement with a group known for its efforts to ban books and oppose mask mandates in schools during the covid pandemic came the same week the Southern Poverty Law Center added Moms for Liberty to its watchlist for anti-government extremism.
Clearly Oliva has been less accommodating and available to opponents of LEARNS, the 145-page behemoth education legislation that throws higher starting teacher salaries and new literacy resources together with charter school expansion and universal vouchers parents can tap to use public money for private school tuition.
Arkansas CAPES predicts LEARNS will chisel away at rural school districts, who will lose funding and support as charters, church schools and private schools compete for voucher funding. CAPES aims to put LEARNS before the voters in November of 2024.
They’ve got some high hurdles ahead of them, though. CAPES has only until July 31 to collect enough signatures to make the ballot. It’s an expensive and labor-intensive proposition, but CAPES leader Steve Grappe says they’re going full throttle.
He said Oliva’s response, the verbal equivalent of a glove slap to the cheek, tracks.
“It’s indicative of how this administration has treated us from the beginning,” he said.