State Rep. David Ray:

State Rep. David Ray: Fight for the Kids

State Rep. David Ray:

David Ray represents District 40, which includes portions of Pulaski and Faulkner counties, in the Arkansas House of Representatives. For the 93rd General Assembly, Rep. Ray serves on the Joint Performance Review Committee, the House Public Transportation Committee, and the House Insurance and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Ray is a consultant and communications strategist. He previously served as Chief of Staff to Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin from 2017-2020 as well as U.S. Senator Tom Cotton’s Communications Director on his 2014 campaign. Rep. Ray is the former State Director of Americans for Prosperity – Arkansas.

He graduated from the University of the Ozarks with a B.S. in Communication and Political Science.

Rep. Ray lives in Maumelle with his wife Jessica and their two children, Charlotte and William.

State Rep. David Ray: Fight for the Kids

Published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Nov. 26, 2021

Much has been written about education being the defining issue in this month’s Virginia gubernatorial election between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.Youngkin, a businessman with no prior political experience, pulled off an upset that few saw coming in a state that has trended strongly toward the Democrats in recent years. He did so in large part by appealing to parents who are dissatisfied over the current state of public education.

Parents were upset by many factors, including the prolonged school closings, even as most of society has returned to some measure of pre-pandemic normal. They were upset that teachers’ unions resisted a return to in-person instruction, even though students had experienced tremendous learning loss throughout the pandemic.

On top of that, many parents were disturbed by the injection of left-wing politics into their kids’ education. The reported teaching of critical race theory and a letter from the National School Boards Association to President Biden essentially accusing concerned parents of being potential domestic terrorists only added fuel to the fire.

Virginia’s recent elections are a strong reminder that states need to give parents more choices in education. In addition to their local traditional public schools, parents and children need the ability to choose an environment that meets their individual needs for a whole host of reasons (academic, values, bullying, learning disabilities, etc.).

In Arkansas, we’ve recently taken some small steps in the right direction. My colleagues and I recently passed a tax credit scholarship program to benefit low-income students whose parents can’t afford the same educational options that wealthy families enjoy. Unfortunately, due to political opposition, this program was limited to about 200 students out of a statewide K-12 population of over 400,000.

For those 200 students, this program has life-changing potential. But what about the tens of thousands that may want to participate but won’t be able to?

I also was the lead sponsor of Act 689, which makes the children of military families eligible for the Succeed Scholarship Program. This is a big win for our military families who face an altogether separate set of educational challenges, but this program is in need of additional funding as well. It is currently capped at just over 600 students, and demand for the program far outstrips the available scholarships.

As you can see, much more work remains.

Arkansas needs strong public schools. There’s no doubt about that. But assigning children to a school based on their ZIP code is an antiquated model. It’s time to move past the old way of doing things and embrace new ideas. Education isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, and we need options that are as unique and varied as our children’s needs.

For those who prefer a different model, it’s important to have a myriad of options like public charters, homeschooling and private school choice. For example, Florida is one of the highest-performing states in the country for K-12 education, and they’ve had robust choice programs for over two decades now. We can have both strong public schools and give parents more options–it’s not an either/or choice.

States around the country are waking up to the idea that parents, not the government, should be in charge of their children’s education. Our Legislature needs to take notice of what’s happening around the country. It’s time to stop fighting over kids and start fighting for kids.


Faces of Freedom - Mary-Ashten

Faces of Freedom - Mary-Ashten

Faces of Freedom - Mary-Ashten

“My daughter would not have been able to attend the only school in the nation that could teach her adequately and that was affordable to me if it wasn’t for the Succeed Scholarship! My daughter was on a third grade math level and a second grade reading level until she began at Access Academy. She has absolutely flourished in every aspect of her life! She was 16 years old on a kindergarten level and about to have to face the world being illiterate, and there was absolutely nothing else I could do for her.

As a parent, I have relocated eight times for my daughters education, and no school — public nor private — could help her reach passed a kindergarten level until I found Access Academy. The first year we moved to Arkansas, her tuition was over $1,000 a month. After Succeed Scholarship, it is now $300. My entire family and friends helped my daughter for a year, and it was financially exhausting. She wouldn’t have been able to attend another year without the scholarship! Especially since I’m a single parent, on disability and attending graduate school college. There was no possible way to keep affording her education.

This scholarship allowed my child another chance at life! Also, it helped her gain confidence in herself she never had since she began third grade. Her self esteem from failing and being in special education classes kept her frustrated and made her feel she couldn’t learn, no matter how much she kept trying. As a parent seeing this for so long led me full of anxiety for my child’s future.

We both had given up, especially since she was over 15 years old and just knew there was no school that could help her catch up since she was so far behind. But, that one last ray of hope made all the difference in her life! I gave it my last shot and told myself as a parent, I am prepared to go anywhere in the United States where God led me for her! Arkansas had one of the best schools just for her and with children with the same learning aspects she had! She didn’t have to feel ostracized!

Thank you Succeed for giving my child a future. Without it, she’d struggle for the rest of her life without a real education for her noted disability of a written and oral expression.

You literally saved her life from struggle and defeat!!!”

– Missy, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


Faces of Freedom - Mills

Faces of Freedom - Mills

Faces of Freedom - Mills

My son is eighth generation of Jacksons in the small community of Berryville — the first one with autism. He attended public school like his sisters before him but struggled with behaviors and keeping up. The school did what they could to accommodate, but as he got older we knew that is was difficult for him and the school. His speech at the time was very little and in phrases he had memorized. We started at the Grace School in May of 2020, which was a huge drain on our family the drive each day and $18,000 tuition. However, immediately we saw huge changes in Mills. He made friends; his behaviors improved; and the school worked with us to improve them at home too. We had a community of parents just like us!!! It has been over a year now, and Mills and I can have complete conversations. He is sounding out words and typing them. He loves to “work out” on the treadmill at school. In fall of 2021 we got our first Succeed Scholarship, and what a huge help that has been! We have a daughter in college, and my work times are restricted due to Mills care and school, so this made our lives much better. Thank you Reform Alliance for helping Mills be all he can be.

– Missy, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


67 legislators (almost half)

67 legislators are making the grade!

During the 2021 Arkansas legislative session, several bills focused on improving educational opportunities for students and increasing compensation for teachers. We graded legislators on how they voted on education-related legislation and are excited to announce that 67 legislators are making the grade!

See the grades in the document below!

 

TRA_LegislativeReportCard_10_29_2021Draft

Faces of Freedom - Rebecca's family

Faces of Freedom - Rebecca's

As a first grader, Faith dreamed of growing up to be a babysitter. She loved caring for other kids and knew she would want to be around them as an adult. Now, as a fifth grader, Faith dreams of growing up to be a teacher. She still loves caring for kids, but now she has a more defined mission: helping kids learn how to read.

Faith and her two brothers all have dyslexia. So, even before she started school herself, Faith saw the struggle that Billy, who is a year older than she is, went through learning to read.

Billy had been in pre-K for two years before he started school, so Rebecca, his mom, was surprised when his kindergarten teacher reported that he was behind the other students and couldn’t keep up with them. The teacher believed it was due to ADHD, but the Conway Psychological Assessment Center said while he had some characteristics of ADHD, the main problem looked like possible dyslexia.

CPAC referred him back to the district school for dyslexia screening. The district told the family that they did not have anyone to do a dyslexia screening at the school, leaving the parents at a loss for what to do next.

“I was new to this and didn’t know what was going on,” Rebecca said. “My husband and I knew something had to give. He was so behind in reading and writing, and everything we were doing at home was not helping him.”

Rebecca connected with the Arkansas Dyslexia Support Group, which helped her find someone able to do the screening. The result made it evident that Billy is severely dyslexic and has a speech language delay.

The family was relieved that they found some answers, but it still took them from October to May to get him set up with an intervention at the school. He started intervention using the Phonics First reading program during the last two weeks of kindergarten.

They continued with the same intervention through second grade, but he was still not making any progress. By the time he was going into third grade, he was still reading at an early kindergarten level.

Billy’s parents knew something different needed to be done, but they did not agree that the schools’ push to identify him as mentally disabled or put him in a self-contained classroom was the answer. Dyslexia advocate Audie Alumbaugh helped get the correct IQ test for students with dyslexia, and Billy tested in the average-to-above-average area, ruling out the mental disability.

On top of his academic struggles, bullies targeted Billy due to his differences, going so far as to kick out some of his teeth.

Unsurprisingly, both Billy and Faith hated school. Rebecca said getting them up every morning and making them go to school was a struggle. She continued searching for help and found the Succeed Scholarship, a program that provides funding for students with learning disabilities to attend private schools.By this time, Faith had also started school. Rebecca was quick to point out that she showed the same signs of speech delay and dyslexia that her brother had, but there was still a delay in getting her intervention. By the end of first grade, the school was recommending that she be held back.

They applied for the scholarship, and while they waited to hear if they would get it, they went through the admissions process at the Hannah School, which specializes in teaching students with dyslexia.

The process included a shadow day, where students would spend a half day on campus to see if it would be an appropriate fit. On the next day, Billy and Faith popped up out of bed on time for once and were ready to go in record time.

When the car pulled up in front of their normal district school, Billy burst into tears and refused to get out of the car. They had both thought they were going to the new school.

“They knew everyone there was like them,” Rebecca said. “Everyone there had the same issues. No one there would be picking on them or making fun of them for the way they talked. … Just knowing that they were other people out there that didn’t know to read helped.”

Billy and Faith had seen what life could be like in a learning environment dedicated to helping students just like themselves, so finishing the last four weeks at their district school was tough. Thankfully, they both received Succeed Scholarships, and were able to transfer to the new school the following year.

Now, Billy is in sixth grade and Faith is in fifth grade, and Rebecca said both are making tremendous progress with the DuBard Association Method and the Wilson Reading System that are used at the school to help students overcome dyslexia.

On the KTEA, the private school’s version of benchmark testing, Billy is testing on the same level and even above other students his age in some areas. Neither of them could read Bob Books, simple books with three-letter words and patterns, by the time they started at the private school, but now they are reading chapter books with improved fluency and comprehension.

Faith loves school and reading, especially the “Babysitters Club” and “Dork Diaries” books.

– Written by TRA comms director based on interview with Rebecca, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


Students with dyslexia learn

Students with dyslexia learn to dream bigger

As a first grader, Faith dreamed of growing up to be a babysitter. She loved caring for other kids and knew she would want to be around them as an adult. Now, as a fifth grader, Faith dreams of growing up to be a teacher. She still loves caring for kids, but now she has a more defined mission: helping kids learn how to read.

Faith and her two brothers all have dyslexia. So, even before she started school herself, Faith saw the struggle that Billy, who is a year older than she is, went through learning to read.

Students with dyslexia learning
At his private school, Billy is surrounded by students like himself. They do not bully or tease him for being different.

Billy had been in pre-K for two years before he started school, so Rebecca, his mom, was surprised when his kindergarten teacher reported that he was behind the other students and couldn’t keep up with them. The teacher believed it was due to ADHD, but the Conway Psychological Assessment Center said while he had some characteristics of ADHD, the main problem looked like possible dyslexia.

CPAC referred him back to the district school for dyslexia screening. The district told the family that they did not have anyone to do a dyslexia screening at the school, leaving the parents at a loss for what to do next.

“I was new to this and didn’t know what was going on,” Rebecca said. “My husband and I knew something had to give. He was so behind in reading and writing, and everything we were doing at home was not helping him.”

Rebecca connected with the Arkansas Dyslexia Support Group, which helped her find someone able to do the screening. The result made it evident that Billy is severely dyslexic and has a speech language delay.

The family was relieved that they found some answers, but it still took them from October to May to get him set up with an intervention at the school. He started intervention using the Phonics First reading program during the last two weeks of kindergarten.

They continued with the same intervention through second grade, but he was still not making any progress. By the time he was going into third grade, he was still reading at an early kindergarten level.

Billy’s parents knew something different needed to be done, but they did not agree that the schools’ push to identify him as mentally disabled or put him in a self-contained classroom was the answer. Dyslexia advocate Audie Alumbaugh helped get the correct IQ test for students with dyslexia, and Billy tested in the average-to-above-average area, ruling out the mental disability.

On top of his academic struggles, bullies targeted Billy due to his differences, going so far as to kick out some of his teeth.

Students with dyslexia learn
Now, Faith dreams of becoming a teacher so she can help kids learn to read!

By this time, Faith had also started school. Rebecca was quick to point out that she showed the same signs of speech delay and dyslexia that her brother had, but there was still a delay in getting her intervention. By the end of first grade, the school was recommending that she be held back.

Unsurprisingly, both Billy and Faith hated school. Rebecca said getting them up every morning and making them go to school was a struggle. She continued searching for help and found the Succeed Scholarship, a program that provides funding for students with learning disabilities to attend private schools.

They applied for the scholarship, and while they waited to hear if they would get it, they went through the admissions process at the Hannah School, which specializes in teaching students with dyslexia.

The process included a shadow day, where students would spend a half day on campus to see if it would be an appropriate fit. On the next day, Billy and Faith popped up out of bed on time for once and were ready to go in record time.

When the car pulled up in front of their normal district school, Billy burst into tears and refused to get out of the car. They had both thought they were going to the new school.

“They knew everyone there was like them,” Rebecca said. “Everyone there had the same issues. No one there would be picking on them or making fun of them for the way they talked. … Just knowing that they were other people out there that didn’t know to read helped.”

Billy and Faith had seen what life could be like in a learning environment dedicated to helping students just like themselves, so finishing the last four weeks at their district school was tough. Thankfully, they both received Succeed Scholarships, and were able to transfer to the new school the following year.

Now, Billy is in sixth grade and Faith is in fifth grade, and Rebecca said both are making tremendous progress with the DuBard Association Method and the Wilson Reading System that are used at the school to help students overcome dyslexia.

On the KTEA, the private school’s version of benchmark testing, Billy is testing on the same level and even above other students his age in some areas. Neither of them could read Bob Books, simple books with three-letter words and patterns, by the time they started at the private school, but now they are reading chapter books with improved fluency and comprehension.

Faith loves school and reading, especially the “Babysitters Club” and “Dork Diaries” books.

Students with dyslexia learning
Grace has learned that having dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a different ability.

Like Faith, Gracie, another Succeed Scholarship student, has dreams of becoming a teacher, but a few years ago, that would never have seemed to be possible.

Gracie’s mom, Jullie, first noticed some signs of dyslexia, like Gracie not picking up on rhyming, during pre-K. Everyone told her it was just due to age, and it would correct itself over time. Gracie struggled in some areas in kindergarten, but it was again attributed to her age. The district school said the gap would close in time.

It didn’t. In first grade, Gracie started regressing, and the harder she tried — and failed — the lower her self-confidence dropped. Eventually, she shut down.

“Gracie left first grade a broken child, made to feel she should know how to do this work but could not,” Jullie said. “She was not getting the help she needed. We call this ‘the nightmare year.’”

The struggles continued into second and third grade, with Alumbaugh helping the family get the appropriate screening. Alumbaugh also helped the family win due process, which is like a courtroom trial between a family and school over a child’s educational rights. This win resulted in changes being made to the reading curriculum at the district school.

“The first four years of Gracie’s schooling were met with hesitation, frustration, defeat, delays and the feeling of helplessness not only for Gracie but for me as well,” Jullie said. “To watch my child being destroyed by a system that says, ‘No child left behind’ was gut wrenching. I will never ever regret fighting for my child’s right to a free appropriate public education. It is not only my child who wins, but every child with dyslexia disabilities who wins. With the correct teaching, curriculum and guidance, disabilities can become abilities.”

By fourth grade, it was clear that Gracie needed a change of environment, and her parents moved her to the same private school that Billy and Faith attend.

“[This] has been the best thing we could have done for our daughter,” Jullie said. “Gracie has worked so hard this past year, and it shows. Gracie is reading, gaining confidence, loves going to school, and her self-esteem is soaring. More importantly, Gracie is thriving.”

The Reform Alliance (TRA), the education nonprofit that administers the Succeed Scholarship on behalf of the state, has heard many stories of students like these getting left behind due to learning differences like dyslexia.

“We would love for all district schools to be equipped and able to help students overcome dyslexia, but sometimes students need a different learning environment or techniques that may not be available in their assigned district,” TRA Managing Director Emmy Henley said.

“That’s why the Succeed Scholarship is so important. It gives students the opportunity to dream bigger and achieve a greater future than anyone originally thought was possible.”

Resources for more info!

  • The Succeed Scholarship is program that provides funding for K-12 students with learning disabilities to attend private schools. It is also available for students in foster care and those from military families. For more information, click here.

  • Would you like to read more stories about students overcoming learning differences? Check out our Faces of Freedom posts!