Governor to speak at school choice rally

Arkansas’ new governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and national school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis will be among the speakers at a National School Choice Week rally from 11 a.m. to noon Monday at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.

DeAngelis, who received a Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is a senior fellow for the Reason Foundation, as well as director of Research at the American Federation for Children and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, according to his biography on the Reason Foundation website.

DeAngelis’ research focuses largely on the effects of school choice programs on non-academic outcomes such as criminal activity, character skills, mental health and political participation.

The rally, a free event at 101 W. Markham St. in the Wally Allen Ballroom, will also feature student performances, speaker testimonials and a showing of the official School Choice Week dance.

The Little Rock rally coincides with the celebration of National School Choice Week, Jan. 22-28, during which there will be multiple events held elsewhere in Arkansas and across all 50 states, from school fairs to landmark light-ups.

In Little Rock, the Union Plaza Building will mark the week by lighting up in the official School Choice Week colors, yellow and red.

“The celebration this year will be charged by an atmosphere we’ve not seen before in Arkansas,” said Emmy Henley, managing director for The Reform Alliance in Arkansas.

“School choice is at the forefront of conversations among state leaders and decision-makers right now, and I can’t think of a better showcase than our rally to demonstrate the possibilities open to our kids when parents have options.”

The Reform Alliance, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as supporting educational opportunities and providing a quality education for all students, is the rally host.

The alliance held a similar rally in 2020, drawing nearly 1,500 community members. This year’s celebration will be in person after virtual and small group events were held in 2021 and 2022 because of the covid-19 pandemic.

The National School Choice Awareness Foundation, another nonprofit organization, is promoting the week across the country, including in Arkansas.

Parents can choose between traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools, homeschooling and newer options like learning pods or micro schooling, a national spokesperson for the foundation said, adding that the options can vary by state.

In Arkansas, families may be able to transfer to a public school of choice outside their neighborhood. The state also offers free, full-time online learning options for students, like Arkansas Connections Academy and Arkansas Virtual Academy charter schools.

Additionally, Arkansas offers two state-funded scholarship programs for students in foster care, students with disabilities, dependents of U.S. military, and students from low-income families.

“School choice is about helping students to find learning opportunities where they discover their talents and grow academically,” Andrew Campanella, president and chief executive officer of the National School Choice Awareness Foundation said.

“We look forward to Arkansas families using School Choice Week to forge partnerships and foster authentic conversations about what it looks like to put kids first in education,” he said.

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