CABOT, Ark. – The LEARNS Act is set to affect every student and teacher in Arkansas next school year, but some people in rural school districts are warning it may not be what’s best for them.

The Rural Caucus of Arkansas hosted its third town hall on the LEARNS Act Tuesday. A release promoting the event said a topic of focus would be “the devastation that the LEARNS Act will have on our public schools, especially rural districts.”

Speakers included former Democrat candidate for governor Chris Jones and State Rep. Jim Wooten, one of the five Republican state legislators who voted against the LEARNS act. They introduced a panel of experts in teaching, social work, home school education, and city government.

Rural Caucus of Arkansas Chair Steve Grappe hosted the town hall inside the Cabot Public Library Community Room.

“I do believe that there needs to be some education reform, but I think we’re walking down the wrong path,” Rodney Govens said.

Govens has children in local public elementary schools and he said he shared the same concerns as the Rural Caucus of Arkansas, namely, that the LEARNS Act and its efforts to publicly fund private education could hurt small towns or worse.

“When we start losing our public schools in our small rural towns, we’re going to have towns dry up,” Grappe said.

In Grappe’s hometown Rose Bud, he said the township is the largest employer and there are many other places that look just like that. Laurie Lee, Chair of The Reform Alliance, said the quality of education should be the focus.

“At the end of the day in Arkansas is education about public education or is it about educating the public?” Lee asked. “Arguably Arkansas is 48th or 49th in education and that’s because we have focused completely on one model of education for the most part.”

Wednesday the Reform Alliance will host Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva for a town hall to answer LEARNS Act questions, and she’d encourage concerned parents turn there, but many of the parents at Cabot’s town hall are losing faith that what is inside the law is worth saving.

“All around this thing is going to hurt us in rural Arkansas,” Grappe asserted. “We’re going to use every single weapon in our arsenal to fight this.”

Govens said he thought the Arkansas legislature was better than this.

“We’re tired of the rigamarole, we’re tired of the hoodwinking, we’re tired of the gaslighting. We have real issues,” Govens said. “That’s a problem. That’s why I’m here, and I hope that everybody else in the state of Arkansas follows suit.”

Grappe is also executive director of Citizens of Arkansas for Public Education and Students. He said one method they may look at to stop the LEARNS Act is through filing a citizens’ veto referendum.

Family Council President Jerry Cox has been a supporter of the bill and sent a statement when asked about the Rural Caucus of Arkansas Town Hall.

The LEARNS Act has the potential to provide unprecedented access to education in Arkansas. Once it’s fully implemented, students will be able to obtain a publicly funded education at a public or private school or at home. Some families feel trapped in failing public schools, and the LEARNS Act will help empower those families to make decisions about their children’s education.”

Family Council President Jerry Cox

The Reform Alliance virtual town hall will be at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29. It will have a Q&A with Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva, who will be discussing the Educational Freedom Account Program. Those interested in participating in the virtual town hall can pre-register.