The Left’s sneak attack to destroy education freedom and create massive new welfare programs
12 min read

The Left’s sneak attack to destroy education freedom and create massive new welfare programs

Next Gen
Apr 17
12 min read

The radical Left has been plotting to take down the LEARNS Act well before it even reached Governor Sarah Sanders’s desk. In fact, they have already tried and failed twice—a failed, partisan referendum effort last summer and a frivolous lawsuit that the state Supreme Court virtually laughed out of the chamber.

But the Left, led by the usual suspects in the Arkansas teacher’s union and liberal activists, is not done fighting, despite the fact that thousands of families, children, and teachers are now benefiting from the transformational law and that public support has increased significantly as Arkansans have learned more about it, especially amongst parents.

They’re not coming for the teacher pay raises, increased school safety standards, or even the other components of LEARNS that they claim Arkansans hate. They’re coming for education freedom and attempting a state takeover of private schools. Because they know how much education freedom threatens their grip on the next generation of Arkansans.

Of course, they aren’t branding it this way. They know that would never fly. Instead, they are marketing it as “fairness” and “equal standards,” hoping Arkansans will be gullible enough to buy in, sign their petitions, and ultimately vote to adopt this radical amendment into the state constitution.

Arkansans deserve the truth. If this amendment is certified for the ballot and becomes law, it will:

  • End education freedom forever, ripping critical funding away from Arkansas families;
  • Violate religious freedom, if private schools try to comply;
  • Create massive new welfare programs of unknown cost, cementing a blank check into the state constitution; and
  • Allow indoctrination into Arkansas schools


The sneakiest, most shocking part of the proposed amendment is Section 1. Unconscionably, it would require all private schools in Arkansas that receive any sort of “public” funding to meet the same “academic” and “accreditation standards” as public schools. While that sounds nice and allows the Left to continue utilizing their tired “fairness” messaging, in reality, this proposal would effectively end education freedom in any form.

Under the amendment, should it become law, private schools would have to meet the same academic and accreditation standards as government schools. If private schools fail to do so, they would forfeit any ability to receive state grants, local grants, property or other tax credits, or virtually any other taxpayer funding.

Notably, this would not just apply to the LEARNS education freedom program but is written so broadly that it would, by design, preempt any future similar programs that would provide financial resources for Arkansans to utilize private education options.

But here’s the thing the Left does not want Arkansans to know: No private school in Arkansas would be able, or even attempt, to adhere to government school accreditation and academic standards.

This is not, as the Left wants you to believe, because private schools “cut corners'' or provide subpar education. (Quite the opposite, actually.) It’s because public school regulations were never intended to apply to non-public schools and they don’t really make sense in a private school context.

A quick look at the academic and accreditation standards published by the Arkansas Department of Education demonstrates this point exactly:

For example, Standard 4-B of the Arkansas Accreditation Standards requires school districts to employ a superintendent. Would private schools have to form school districts and then hire superintendents just to comply with this regulation? This is highly unrealistic.

Standard 3-A-5 requires each school district to employ a general business manager responsible for district fiscal operations. But how would this apply to a private school operating without a district? Who knows.

There are dozens if not hundreds of examples like this from existing state requirements that private schools could never comply with by their very nature.

And because private schools would be wholly unable to comply with all of these insane rules that were not created for them or their unique structures, they would be forced to opt out of any education freedom-related program.

This is the real goal: Under the thinly-veiled rallying cry of “equality and fairness,” impose an impossible and contradictory set of rules on all Arkansas private schools and force them out.

It’s the Left’s same tired playbook of chaos and confusion. Sadly, if they get their way, vulnerable Arkansas kids will pay the price.

It’s not just the LEARNS Act’s Education Freedom Accounts or future ESA-style programs that would be effectively shuttered by this radical proposal. The amendment would also apply these draconian restrictions to scholarship programs that are funded by state tax credits, which means scholarship programs like the Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids (PIAK) that serves low-income kids with disabilities, would also be effectively eliminated.

Quite clearly, this is a back-door effort to end education freedom and critical scholarship programs like PIAK once and for all.


If by some miracle, however, private schools did attempt to comply with this tangled web of regulations, they would be required in many cases to violate their strongly held religious beliefs. This raises serious constitutional questions.

Consider, as just one example, the requirement that Arkansas science courses teach students about evolution. Setting aside the merits of theory itself or whether it should be mandated in government schools or not, it remains that private schools in Arkansas today get to choose if they want to teach this theory, as they should. Many of them do not teach it as it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

But the proposed radical amendment would remove that choice and instead force all private schools in Arkansas to teach evolution—and other things that may conflict with their religious beliefs—if they choose to participate in the EFA program or take any other form of tax credit or grant funded by taxpayers.

Similarly, many parochial schools offer religious classes and forms of instruction. This amendment would prohibit these classes from existing at private schools, a clear infringement upon religious liberty.

(Imagine the outcry, for a moment, if the situation were reversed and conservatives put forth a proposal to force public schools to teach Creationism or other religious principles in any schools that accept public funding.)

As such, the amendment not only stomps on religious liberty, but likely also violates the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.

Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that states cannot exclude or discriminate against religious schools when it comes to school choice programs.

Requiring private schools to suddenly comply with a whole host of state regulations that were never intended for them simply because they are participating in a school choice program seems to walk dangerously close to that line. And if this radical proposal is approved to go on the ballot, a court will certainly be weighing in before Election Day.

(Notably, the authors of the amendment seem to be aware of constitutional concerns: They added two clauses at the very end that effectively say, “We don’t intend for this to be unconstitutional!” but “If you do find it unconstitutional, please leave the other parts alone.”)

Attorney General Tim Griffin attempted to warn the drafters about these concerns when they submitted the proposal for his review, noting that the provision would also prevent private schools from providing religious instruction, which would be unconstitutional. Griffin told the group,

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.”

They proceeded nonetheless.


If approved by Arkansas voters, this ballot issue would also create a series of new welfare-style programs. Unfortunately, details about how these programs would operate, what they would cost, and what benefits would be included are remarkably scarce.

As is common with Leftist activists, there are lofty, unrealistic goals with no attempt to explain just how these programs will be funded or implemented (and this is usually code for higher taxes and siphoning resources from the truly needy). The most problematic new programs include:

  • Universal early childhood program for kids ages three and up;
  • Universal access to after school and summer programs that the amendment says are “necessary for the achievement of an adequate education;” and
  • “Assistance” to students “within” 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL).

What will the programming look like? How will it be funded? The amendment does not say.

How much and what type of  “assistance” will eligible families receive? Ask again later. 

What does “necessary” mean? It’s not defined, leaving the door open to massive expansions of the program in the future.

And how much will this Christmas list of new programs cost taxpayers? No one seems to know.

In fact, architects of the amendment recently told the public they have no idea, but said it will be "less than $8 billion."

Yes, how assuring!

It’s reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s infamous rallying cry in favor of ObamaCare that we have to pass it to find out what’s in it.

Ultimately, the amendment's own drafters don’t have any idea what it will cost, and they don’t appear to care. They just want voters to sign a blank check.

Additionally, the drafters of the amendment were either sloppy or sneaky when drafting who would be eligible for the “assistance” program: rather than specifying “under 200% of the federal poverty line,” the drafters say “within” 200 percent of poverty. Those are, conceivably, two very different things.

“Within 200% of poverty” could easily be interpreted as extending all the way up to 300 percent of poverty, as the poverty line starts at 100 percent. And if that’s how this language is indeed interpreted and applied, families of four in Arkansas earning nearly $94,000 per year could qualify for benefits.

All the while, this radical group tells us how “immoral” it is that “rich” Arkansas families are able to get help from the education freedom program!

Ultimately, the activists behind this don’t have any idea what it will cost, and they don’t appear to care. They just want voters to sign a blank check and cement it into the state constitution.


Section 4 of the proposed amendment additionally paves the way for indoctrination and woke activism to gain a foothold in Arkansas schools, moving the state backwards after recent progress made on these fronts.

The amendment (attempts to) define “adequate education.” Included in this definition are two phrases that cause considerable heartburn, despite their nothingness:

  • Self-knowledge and knowledge of their mental and physical wellness” and
  • “Grounding in the arts to enable students to appreciate their cultural and historical heritage.”

According to the amendment, these are essential components of an “adequate education” in Arkansas.

What do these phrases mean? While the language is once again incredibly vague, it seems safe to assume this isn’t a push for more American civics classes or Bible lessons.

Indeed, these are the Left’s buzzwords and dog whistles that most political observers can easily decipher: This is a gateway to 1) encourage exploration of gender ideology, likely without parental knowledge; and 2) teach radical topics like Critical Race Theory in Arkansas schools, under the guise of “cultural and historical heritage.”

Both of these are currently prohibited under state law. But the Left would prefer they be cemented in the state Constitution.


The anti-education freedom radicals have a high hill to climb to get this issue in front of voters on the November ballot. The organizers must: 

  • Get more than 90,000 signatures
  • A minimum number of signatures must come from at least 50 counties to ensure widespread geographical representation
  • Turn in the signatures by July 5 (less than 90 days away)

(Although, it is worth mentioning that this 50-county requirement is currently being challenged and could potentially be thrown out before the signature window closes.)

But if they are able to pull this off, it’s bedlam. And proponents of education freedom must be ready to fight to protect the Arkansas LEARNS Act and the countless students and families who are benefiting from it.


At the end of the day, the radical Left knows exactly what they’re doing with this insane amendment: They’re attempting to create a tangled web of new regulations on private schools that no private school could possibly comply with. They just won’t say it that way because they don’t want the public to know the truth. As always, their argument is “fairness” and “equality.”

But what’s fair about misleading Arkansas voters? 

And what’s fair about stripping away critical funding from Arkansans like the Cunninghams, the Andersons, the Blines, the Lieblong-Barlows, the Halls, the Martins, and thousands of others who have utilized the EFA program and, in just a period of months, have seen it change the trajectory of their families?

Education freedom in Arkansas is working. It's helping thousands of families and next school year, it will help thousands more, setting them on a trajectory to better educations, good-paying jobs, and lives of independence. And that's exactly why the Left will do anything they can to stop it.

Image of the story authorNicholas Horton
Founder & CEO

Nic Horton is a native Arkansan and Founder & CEO of Opportunity Arkansas. He has spent more than a decade in the conservative movement as an expert on election, disability, tax, welfare, and workforce reform.

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Image of the story authorHayden Dublois
Visiting Economist

Hayden Dublois is the Visiting Economist at Opportunity Arkansas. His primary research areas are welfare, health care, workforce, unemployment, and tax policy.

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