February 24, 2023

Austin Bailey: Old guard Arkansas Republicans pushed aside in school choice fight: ‘Rich people want vouchers’

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Covering the march forward of Governor Sarah Sanders’s school privatization plan, Austin Bailey found Republicans who have had enough. 

Rep. Bruce Cozart (R-Hot Springs), former chair of the House Education Committee and a 10-year Capitol veteran, all but admitted this week that the fight for equity in education is lost. Cozart met with a cluster of public school teachers who came to Little Rock from across the state to try to figure out what the hell is going on. Gov. Sarah Sanders continues to dangle foreboding sound bytes about “bold, conservative reform,” “education freedom accounts” and merit pay, but there’s nothing yet on paper and teachers are understandably desperate for details.

That was a week ago. Since then, of course, the sound bites have given way to a full-blown education plan that is every bit as bad as expected.

A veteran in the fight against school vouchers, Cozart is laying down his sword.

“I know you are disappointed in me, but I have been fighting vouchers for eight years and I am just tired. There is nothing I can do,” he told teachers Wednesday.

Did he really say this stuff? Yes! Reached by phone Friday morning, Cozart gave some lip service to what he said were the good intentions of his Republican colleagues, but confirmed the conversations.

There are other Republican advocates of public schools in the Arkansas Legislature, but they’re seemingly a dying breed. Sen. James Sturch, an educator and reliable public school champion, got primaried and lost his seat in 2022 to pro-voucher candidate John Payton. Republican Rep. Jim Wooten of Beebe is still hard at work trying to push bills to keep vouchers from widening the gap between “haves and have-nots.” A couple of Republicans recently went along with Wooten’s bill to require private schools that accept public money in the form of vouchers to issue standardized tests and admit all comers, but most Republicans in the House Education hearing did not. The bill died in committee.

Cozart’s final words in the article are not heartening.

“The rich want vouchers. That’s who this legislation is for. The rich. They want it and they are going to get it. I am sorry but that’s just the truth,” Cozart said. Sometimes saying the quiet part out loud isn’t a bad thing.

Read the full article here. 

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