Jacob Oliva and Sarah Sanders Brian Chilson

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and state Education Secretary Jacob Oliva are trying their best to pick a fight with the federal government over student loan forgiveness and the supposed persecution of Christians. The duo sent a mean letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on the eve of his trip to Arkansas to let him know we don’t like his kind around here.

“You will be in Little Rock tomorrow to tout President Biden’s unconstitutional student loan forgiveness program and try and explain your department’s disastrous rollout of updates to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” they wrote. “We welcome you to our state, but we fear that this visit will only serve to highlight some of your administration’s worst mistakes.”

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Can y’all feel the Southern hospitality?

Sanders’ and Oliva’s criticism on FAFSA is fair. A delayed rollout of a new system has served up glitches and frustration, resulting in significantly fewer students applying for federal loans and grants in 2024 compared to past years. And because the FAFSA form is also the basis of most state- and college-based aid programs, these FAFSA delays and snafus are holding up more than just federal aid.

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But we thought Sanders didn’t want to help students who can’t pay for their own higher education? She tells us so in this very same letter. Sanders rails against President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness programs because she said it forces “Arkansans who chose not to attend college to pay for others’ education.”

Isn’t that what federally subsidized grants and loans do?

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And try swapping out “private school” for “college” in the quote above, and “tuition” for “education.” Forcing “Arkansans who chose not to attend college private school to pay for others’ education tuition” is Sanders’ LEARNS Act in a nutshell. What’s the difference?

The letter to Cardona goes on to fan the flames of evangelical grievance, accusing the Biden administration of attacking the church, freedom and parents.

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You’ve promised to shut down the nation’s largest Christian university. You oppose education freedom. You attack parents who speak up for their children’s education at school board meetings,” Sanders and Oliva wrote. (The unspoken subtext here is that Cardona burns American flags and kills bald eagles for fun, too.)

The Christian university referenced here is Grand Canyon University, an online diploma mill akin to the University of Phoenix, but with a Jesus vibe. The U.S. Department of Education found that Grand Canyon was giving students estimates of how much their advanced degrees would cost, then charging them far more. For their sins, Grand Canyon University was fined $37.7 million.

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Last week, Cardona called Grand Canyon a predatory, for-profit operation preying on first-generation Americans. Fox News took note and couched the controversy as an attack on Christians who, I suppose, should enjoy the religious freedom to get fleeced for overpriced and worthless degrees.

It’s noteworthy that Oliva, who came to Arkansas by way of Florida, the anti-wokest of states, cosigned the letter. Is there anything here that will help Oliva better serve Arkansas students? No. But it will more firmly affix him to the rightwingers who paint garbage as gold.

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“During your visit, we hope you see that Arkansas is leading on education while the U.S. Department of Education is leaving students and families behind,” Sanders and Oliva wrote.

As the secretary of education for this whole country, Cardona knows good and well that Arkansas is not leading on education in any way.

Claiming we are the best in education won’t make it so. Neither will writing huffy, politically charged letters chock full of contradictory conservative talking points.