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Class Weeps with Joy as Sarah Huckabee Sanders Saves Their School…Then a Progressive Group Steps In

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Under Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas is removing left-leaning teachers unions from underperforming public schools in an effort to improve academic performance.

The action is authorized by the Arkansas LEARNS Act, a law designed to improve the quality of education in low-performing school districts, which is being opposed by liberal activists.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the state Board of Education assumed control of the Marvell-Elaine School District in April and directed Education Secretary Jacob Oliva to enter a “transformation contract” that would allow a qualified third-party entity, such as a charter school management company, to operate the district.

The objective is to improve academic performance because the current program is underperforming.

92 percent of the pupils in the rural Marvell-Elaine School District are black, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.

Both Marvell Elementary School and Marvell High School have received a “F” grade because their pupils’ academic achievement scores were the lowest in the state.

The district has an average math proficiency score of 6 percent, which is significantly lower than the state average of 36 percent, and an average reading proficiency score of 7 percent, which is significantly lower than the state average of 37 percent.

Not only was the quality of education abysmal, but so was the financial state of the school district.

“Marvell-Elaine was also in fiscal distress from April 2019 to September 2021,” the Arkansas Advocate reported in April.

“Marvell-Elaine was scheduled to be consolidated due to low enrollment under the nearly 20-year-old Public Education Reorganization Act, which requires the state Education Department to consolidate districts whose daily average membership falls below 350 for two consecutive years,” it said.

Under the LEARNS Act signed by Sanders in March, Marvell-Elaine would escape closure and avoid consolidation if it partnered with an open-enrollment public charter school or another “state board-approved entity in good standing to create ‘a public school district transformation campus,’” according to the Advocate.

Last month, pupils, parents, and administrators applauded the decision.

Sanders shared a commentary by Martin Rawls, a Marvell resident and educator, that said “cheers rang out when the decision was made by the board to enter into a transformational contract.”

“As soon as the news broke, I was thrilled to announce to the second-grade class that their school was staying open,” Rawls wrote. “Happy tears were shed and hugs were received.”

Students, many of whom commute 20 to 40 miles per day to attend Marvell-Elaine’s two schools, would experience lengthier bus journeys as a result of consolidation.

Activists filed a lawsuit two weeks ago to prevent the transfer of the Marvell-Elaine School District to the Friendship Education Foundation, a charter school administration organization.

Plaintiffs are five individuals and Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, who are concerned about the cost of the “transformation contract” with the charter school management organization.

“The Plaintiffs, who are members of Concerned Citizens of the Marvell Area, are concerned that cost of the transformation contract, which would be $250,000 and $200,000 per year after that, to be paid out of the Marvell-Elaine School District budget, will reduce the funds available for providing educational resources to Marvell-Elaine students,” the complaint says.

“This concern is especially critical for a small district like Marvell-Elaine, which has many of the same overhead costs as larger districts but has fewer students and therefore receives less per-student foundation funding to cover those costs,” it says.

This argument is ridiculous given that Marvell-Elaine already has financial difficulties despite having the “highest expense per student in the state, at more than $16,000 per student, and the lowest overall student achievement rates,” as reported by the Democrat-Gazette.

In comparison to the $4,896,000 allocated for Marvell-Elaine, paying a charter school management company $250,000 per year is a substantial savings.

And because the district’s academic performance is the lowest in Arkansas, things could only improve with new administration.

Sanders spokesperson Alexa Henning told KARK-TV in Little Rock that the lawsuit is baseless and nothing more than a poor power play.

“Democrats and liberal activists in this state are playing politics with kids’ futures while trying to protect the failed status quo,” Henning said.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

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