As the school year kicks off, I am reminded of the fantastic schools I attended here in Arkansas. However, I am also reminded that public education is under attack in America like never before. In NWA we are lucky enough to have some of the best public schools and public educators in the state of Arkansas. However, it takes more than fantastic schools and teachers to make public education thrive — it takes solid public policy to support and sustain it. Instead of working to bolster the public education of our populace, some of our Arkansas congressional representatives have been actively working to undermine the social institution of education.
One prime example is Steve Womack and Tom Cotton’s endorsement and support for Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, despite the outcry from Arkansas constituents around the state. In fact, last year Representative Womack repeatedly supported Devos’ attempt to cut the federal budget for education by 9.2 billion dollars! He stated that the “inescapable fact is that many of the programs we’re talking about here are on the discretionary side of the budget.” Education is not simply a line item on our national budget, but rather an institution that affects millions of American children, including many right here in NWA. Education is not discretionary, it is essential.
Similarly, Senator Cotton described Secretary Devos in a statement after meeting her as being “rightly skeptical of any attempt by Washington to impose social-engineering fads on Arkansas parents and teachers.” Cotton’s ridiculous claim that educational reform efforts at the national level, which seek the betterment of all of our children, is some attempt by Washington to social engineer makes a mockery of our public education system. Here in Arkansas, this so-called social engineering has elevated and enhanced our educational system time and time again by making education accessible to EVERYONE. What Senator Cotton ridicules has been the very bedrock of the education our children have received on becoming more informed citizens and better community members. “Social engineering” has been used as an excuse to obstruct the pathway to equal education for all children many times. Where would we be without the integration of the Little Rock Nine years ago? Are we to return to a time when those with disabilities are legally discriminated against, as prohibited by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, something Devos and her cronies denigrate? Is it really “social engineering” to demand equal access to opportunity for all? And is it any coincidence that Senator Cotton, who supports those same backwards stances, has received $26,000 from the Devos family in political contributions? It’s difficult to “drain the swamp” in Washington when Womack and Cotton endorse swampland alligators for powerful positions in the President’s Cabinet.
Education is foundational for our society, around our country, and right here in our home state. Public education, when well funded and well supported, helps to break down some of the barriers which are devastating Arkansas today. When kids across backgrounds – rich and poor, black and white, of various faiths and nationalities – all learn in an educational community together, they are better equipped to live in peace and cooperation as adults. They learn from one another, as well as from their teachers. It’s not “social engineering” – it’s simply society. So if we want to heal the deep wounds in our society, there is no better place to start than with increased support and emphasis on our public schools. As you take your kids to school this week or drop them off at the bus stop I hope you remember how crucial public education is and I hope you choose to stand up for it on Election Day.