Lawmakers had a bone to pick with Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward in the June meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council.
Controversy ensued when Ward gave his report to legislators. As is customary, questions about budget changes, personnel issues, and other matters began. Several members wanted to take Ward to task over funding for county fairs.
The money in question was moved from county fair budgets to the Arkansas Youth Expo (AYE), a Fayetteville-based nonprofit. AYE is an agricultural nonprofit focused on youth development and opportunity, “devoted to developing leaders in life.”
Ward answered many pointed questions from legislators. Members wanted to know if county fair boards were warned of the money being moved away from them. They also asked who was responsible and signed off on the budget change.
Lawmakers waxed poetic about county fairs, which are legitimately a big deal in our rural state. One member even mentioned accountability issues, asking how we know these public dollars, now in the hands of nonprofit, will be spent wisely. Always a good question to ask, but interesting in a context of our most recent general session.
We agree that accountability is needed when public dollars are being spent anywhere, and we think that logic should be applied to education just as they insist it be applied to county fair funding.
The same lawmakers who sponsored the system of funneling public education dollars into private schools want to criticize the Department of Agriculture for moving money similarly.
Senator Gary Stubblefield lambasted Secretary Ward, saying “This is nothing more than a slap in the face to rural Arkansas.”
The real slap in the face is happening in education funding. We have seen the outcry from rural school districts that know LEARNS vouchers will decimate their communities.
Where is the legislative outrage on behalf of rural school districts? Where is the consistency in commitment to rural constituents?
Public dollars funneled into private hands is endorsed in education, but not in agriculture.
As we have reported for months now, the unconstitutional hellscape we live in has created a devastating reality for Arkansans. Unconstitutional as it may be, the Arkansas legislature serves at the pleasure of the Governor, not the people who elected them. That is why they will sponsor a bill that ruins their schools and communities and keep their mouths shut when called out for it. Meanwhile, they will take every opportunity to criticize a budget change that takes county fair dollars to invest in a youth agriculture program run by a nonprofit. Seems a lot like grandstanding and fake outrage, especially considering their educational priorities.