LEE RUDOFSKY

The judge assigned to a federal lawsuit challenging a section of Arkansas LEARNS, the K-12 education overhaul championed by Gov. Sarah Sanders, is planning to apply for a school voucher for his family under a program created by LEARNS — but doesn’t intend to recuse from the case.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, a Trump appointee and member of the conservative Federalist Society, disclosed that information in a statement posted to the case docket on Friday.

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Rudofsky was assigned to the case after the first judge who drew it, Kristine Baker, recused herself. Baker did not give a reason.

The lawsuit was filed last week by five plaintiffs objecting to Arkansas’s decision last summer to no longer count an AP African American Studies course toward state graduation requirements, citing a part of LEARNS that prohibits “indoctrination” in the classroom. The plaintiffs are two parents, two students and a history teacher from Little Rock’s Central High School, one of six schools in the state that offered AP African American Studies in the 2023-24 school year.

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The lawsuit names Sanders and her education secretary, Jacob Oliva, as defendants and asks the court to block the section of the law containing the ban on so-called indoctrination. That section is distinct from the portion of the law that created the school voucher program — known as “Education Freedom Accounts” in the parlance of LEARNS — which gives public money to private school and homeschool families to use for tuition, fees and other costs.

“I want to disclose to the parties that my family intends to apply for an Education Freedom Account,” Rudofsky wrote in a brief order Friday. “I do not believe this requires my recusal under either the recusal statute or the applicable judicial canons. If any party disagrees, that party should file a recusal motion within seven (7) days of the date of this Order.”

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Only certain Arkansas students are eligible for the voucher program in the current school year, including those from low-performing public schools, new kindergarteners and children with disabilities. The program will expand to include other groups in 2024-25 (year two of LEARNS), then open its doors to all students in the state in year three. This year, each voucher cost the state around $6,700.

Mike Laux, a civil rights attorney representing the Central High plaintiffs, said he had no comment on Rudofsky’s statement.

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Rudofsky has written on the subject of school vouchers at least once before. During his Senate confirmation process, he disclosed a list of public writings and statements that included a 2000 article in the Cornell Review titled “Validating Vouchers: Privatization is the last, best hope for public education reform.”

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