- The Department of Education’s purpose is to assist and accredit schools, approve curriculum, license teachers, etc.
- After Sanders took office and hired Jacob Oliva, the ADE’s messaging took a political turn
- The Department’s social media pumps Sanders propaganda and wades into political issues
- The state agency is outside of its purview; Arkansans deserve better
What in the world is going on at the Arkansas Department of Ed?
The answer is Sarah Sanders, Jacob Oliva, and their icky propaganda machine.
Before January 2023, ADE’s feed was typical for a state education department: fairly mundane, lots of teacher appreciation posts, a few announcements here and there, and the occasional PSA about opportunities for educators.
But after Sarah Sanders took office and appointed Jacob Oliva as the department’s new Secretary of Education, ADE’s feed shifted in two ways.
First, Oliva himself became the star of the department’s social media. It seemed as though every post had his photo or shared an interview he gave.
Second, and more concerning, the department began lobbying for legislation that Arkansans had yet to see. The move was unusual because departments don’t publicly weigh in on the lawmaking process. They certainly don’t attempt to influence the public’s perception of proposed legislation, either.
By this summer, ADE was doing the grassroots lobbying work of LEARNS on behalf of Sanders. Their social media began parroting the exact talking points of the Governor’s administration. The messaging ADE pushed included propaganda tactics and blatant political stances — two mechanisms quite unbecoming of a state agency.
On August 1st, the department released a distasteful post that crowed over LEARNS becoming law. The message was a clap back at the 55,000 Arkansans who signed a petition to put LEARNS on the ballot for voters. It was also a slam to public educators from Marvell-Elaine who filed suit against the state for its sloppy implementation of LEARNS.
We reviewed the department’s feed for the last two years and saw a striking contrast between former Secretary Johnny Key’s tenure and current Secretary Oliva’s.
Spot the differences
While Key was in office, the department’s public messaging was mostly teacher-focused and heavy on education topics. Social media mentioned Key once a month, at most. Former Governor Asa Hutchinson was mentioned about 1.5 times a month. The bulk of social posts the department shared were stories of teachers, celebrations of success, and notifications to educators about relevant programs.
Since Jacob Oliva has served as secretary, the department’s social media has changed dramatically. Oliva himself is prominently featured an average of 11 times a month, or 2.5 times a week. Governor Sanders is mentioned an average of 5.5 times a month.
But what’s really troubling is the department’s commitment to peddling state-created propaganda regarding LEARNS, Marvell-Elaine, a citizen-led referendum group, and more.
It’s critical that Arkansans see and understand that ADE has lost its compass. The department is tasked with “providing leadership, support, and service to schools, districts and communities,” not wading into political waters. It most certainly is not another branch of the Governor’s communications office.
Our students, teachers, parents, and schools deserve less political jockeying (and more effort into improving our system) than what Jacob Oliva’s Department of Ed is giving Arkansas.