For AR Kids hopes to put an Educational Rights Amendment of 2024 on the ballot.

Requiring parochial schools that accept vouchers to meet state standards would violate those schools’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said today in his opinion rejecting a ballot proposal from a group called For AR Kids.

The group’s “Educational Rights Amendment of 2024” would require private schools that accept public funding in the form of vouchers to meet the same academic standards public schools must meet.

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From Griffin’s opinion, issued Tuesday:

“Many parochial schools provide religious instruction as part of their academic curriculum. If enacted, your proposal would prevent parochial schools from offering that instruction. This limitation would violate the First Amendment. As the Arkansas Supreme Court and several of my predecessors have noted, when a proposal is clearly unconstitutional, its sponsors are not entitled to invoke the legislative process at all. It is misleading to present a proposed measure to voters when some or all of that measure is clearly unconstitutional and therefore could not become effective.”

Griffin also takes issue with what he says is a lack of specificity in language used throughout the proposed amendment.

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You can read his full opinion here.

Bill Kopsky, the executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and a member of For AR Kids, seemed perplexed by Griffin’s First Amendment argument.

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“They don’t have a First Amendment right to state funding,” he said.

Kopsky said members of the For AR Kids coalition, which includes Arkansas NAACP President Barry Jefferson, Arkansas Education Association President April Reisma and Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) Executive Director Steve Grappe, will take some time to study Griffin’s opinion, then likely request a meeting to get a better understanding of the objections.

“We don’t think we’re violating First Amendment rights by requiring schools accepting state funding to meet state standards,” Kopsky said.

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The group expected their first draft to be rejected and will absolutely submit another try, Jefferson said.

“Although we face a temporary setback, our belief in the potential of this initiative remains steadfast. We will explore alternative avenues to ensure equal opportunities for every Arkansan,” he said.

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The amendment For AR Kids hopes to put on the ballot would do three things:

  1. Require any school receiving any amount of public funds to follow the same standards that traditional public schools are required to follow;

  2. Establish the minimum quality standards ordered by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2002 in its Lakeview decision; and

  3. Guarantee voluntary universal access to pre-K for 3-4 year olds, afterschool & summertime programming, quality special education, and wrap-around services for children within 200% of the Federal Poverty Line.