Hector J. Revas

I was born and raised in Arkansas. After law school I spent a year in Texas, which was long enough for me to see that I needed to get back home. I met my wife, Ginny, in Dallas. She left a great job in Texas to move here in 1982 when we married. We have been here ever since. I love Arkansas.

I chose to live here, and I always will. Leaving would be an admission that all is lost. Quitting would hurt more than losing.

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I was so proud of Ginny when she testified against the LEARNS Act. She waited all day into the night, and said her piece at 8:52 p.m. She gave her testimony as a parent, local PTA president, State PTA president and member of Forward Arkansas. A friend who was there sent me a picture of Ginny standing by herself as she waited her turn, with a notebook in her hand. All of a sudden this was even more personal. My mind was filled with the children in LRSD that I met at Washington Elementary, the kids at Watson, the student councils at McClellan and Fair, the ESL students at Hall, my buddy “Spiderman,” and so many more. 

The House Education Committee paid Ginny no attention, just like they paid no attention to the children I just remembered. The governor and legislature have not listened to the people who have poured out their hearts for children in public schools. They paid no attention to parents whose children need special help. They paid no attention to at least two of their own members who have heartfelt personal stories of their experiences in public schools. Those people were speaking for the children who will not benefit from a voucher. Wait and see how many poor children and special needs children end up in elite private schools. 

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The committee got a lot of testimony from people who mentored students, read to students, picked up trash on playgrounds, raised money for bands, donated prom dresses, worked the concession stands, and helped out at open houses and fall carnivals. The legislators who voted for the LEARNS Act threw their concerns in the trash. Many legislators signed up to sponsor a bill they had not seen. They still have no idea of the cost in dollars. More importantly, they have not counted the real cost, which is the damage done to a lot of poor kids, kids with disabilities, kids who wanted to play football, kids who wanted to play in the band and the kids who needed to know their neighbors. 

I want to thank all of the legislators and citizens who stood up and spoke out against this ghastly LEARNS Act. The unfortunate truth remains that vouchers have not improved overall student achievement anywhere. The first major study by Cecilia Elena Rouse of Princeton found that student achievement gains were “not statistically different from zero.”  Subsequent studies reach the same conclusion. Vouchers do not improve student performance. 

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The LEARNS Act will provide a monetary supplement to families whose children are already enrolled in private schools, and families who are homeschooling their children. New private elementary schools will probably pop up, but the children who attend will not be the children who need help the most. We should be spending our money on early childhood interventions that are proven, and on fostering stable communities. There are no shortcuts. This was not a data-driven decision. Just politics, but with a very high human cost.

The walls of ignorance, racism, prejudice, selfishness, sexism, segregation, greed, poverty and fear are being rebuilt now at our Capitol.

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Our legislature has met, and as Robert Frost says in his well-known poem “Mending Wall,”

And on a day we meet to walk the line

and set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each

 

Frost goes on:

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Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

Was I walling in or walling out, 

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Our legislature has reconstructed many walls in the last few weeks. They put our history behind a wall. Put some books behind the wall. Put parents, youth and their physicians behind a wall. Put poor and underserved children behind a wall. Put gay and transgender Arkansans behind a wall. Put public school teachers behind a wall. 

They succeeded in dividing:

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  • Republican and Democrat.
  • Public and private-charter-homeschooler.
  • Black and white.
  • Gay and straight.
  • Rich and poor.

And in the most egregious and cruel act of all, they put those Arkansans with disabilities behind a wall. Please, tell me that they did not know what they were doing. I love Arkansans. I know we are better than this.

So my governor and legislators, it is clear that you are powerful enough to stack the stones between us. Two weeks ago I saw you bringing the stones, ”grasped firmly by the top, in each hand like an old-stone savage armed.”  You have stacked the boulders so tall that you cannot see the pain or need of those on the other side. Those children can fend for themselves. After all, good fences make good neighbors. 

As Anais Mitchell says so poignantly in her song, “Why We Build the Wall”:

Why do we build the wall, my children?  

We build the wall to set us free, because the wall keeps out the enemy,

and the enemy is poverty.

That’s why we build the wall.

We build the wall to keep us free.

Take your voucher and pay your bail. You have built the wall and set yourself free.

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