Arkansas just followed in the footsteps of Arizona and passed a massive school choice reform bill called the Arkansas LEARNS bill, which will gradually provide vouchers for education through “Education Freedom Accounts.” Eventually, those vouchers will equal 90% of the funding allocated per student to each public school district per year, giving parents a significant amount of cash to spend on alternatives to government schooling.
Further, Fox News Digital reports that “The bill also seeks to eliminate critical race theory from classrooms, will fund 120 new literacy coaches for students, and will increase the base salary for teachers from $36,000 to $50,000 — the fourth-highest for teachers in the U.S.”
In a statement Governor Sanders released on the bill, she said, “The Arkansas House made history today by passing my Arkansas LEARNS bill by an overwhelming majority. I have my pen ready to sign the boldest, most far-reaching, most conservative education reforms in the country into law after the Senate passes this amended version early next week. These sweeping changes will address teachers’ needs, defend parents’ rights, and, most importantly, give our kids the quality education they deserve. Thank you to our friends in the House for their support – Arkansans can’t wait any longer for this much-needed legislation.”
She also tweeted, “A HISTORIC WIN for parents, teachers, and students that will set the education model for the nation, I’m ready to sign it into law tomorrow and end the failed status quo. Every kid will soon have access to a quality education and path to a good paying job and better life, right here in Arkansas.”
Governor Sanders’ office also issued a press release in which it discussed some myths surrounding the LEARNS bill and the truth about the bill, saying:
Myth: “Educational Freedom Accounts will hurt public education and close rural schools.”
FACT: Actually, the opposite is true. Research shows that Educational Freedom Accounts lead to better outcomes in traditional public schools. That’s because they empower parents of all incomes to customize their child’s education; if the local school district is the best option, it won’t lose any kids. Data from other states show that the large majority of families, when given the choice, continue to send their kids to traditional public schools and charter schools – but families deserve to have that choice.
Myth: “School choice programs give money to unaccountable private schools.”
FACT: Here in Arkansas, it’s not school choice; it’s parental empowerment. Ultimately, parents make the best decisions for their child and know when a school is right or wrong. Often that means sending kids to their local school district, but a child’s ZIP code shouldn’t be the only thing determining the type of education they receive. And any private school or student that opts into this program will be held accountable and required to participate in year-end assessments, just like students in traditional public schools.
Myth: “Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught anywhere in Arkansas.”
FACT: President Biden’s Department of Education is using nationwide guidelines and grant programs to force school districts to adopt key tenets of Critical Race Theory. That includes work from the “Abolitionist Teaching Network” and parts of the newly proposed “American History and Civics Education” priorities. The Governor’s Executive Order directed the Secretary to comb through those DOE materials to ensure Washington bureaucrats can’t bully Arkansas schools into teaching racist indoctrination. As Governor Sanders and Secretary Oliva have said, Arkansas will teach students how to think, not what to think.
Myth: “This gets rid of the teacher pay scale and discourages teachers from pursuing further education.”
FACT: This bill simply puts salary schedule decisions back in the hands of districts and won’t reduce any teacher’s pay one bit. The current statewide, one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t let administrators tailor their salary schedules to do what’s best for students.
Myth: “This will cost taxpayers far too much.”
FACT: This bill uses a mixture of existing state funds and federal grants to fund the price tag. In fact, Arkansas is still on track to enact another tax cut. And of course, quality education systems pay for themselves many times over in the long run. Every kid deserves the opportunity for a quality education that sets them up for a lifetime of success.
Myth: “This bill forces every kid to go to government-run pre-k.”
FACT: This bill does not mandate pre-k or government-run childcare. We simply want those programs to exist for the families who want and need them.
Myth: “Holding kids back won’t solve the problem and hurts low-income and minority children.”
FACT: When only 35% of Arkansas third graders can read at grade level, we are doing struggling kids a disservice by allowing them to go to 4th grade without the tools to be successful. This bill gives them the resources to succeed, including reading coaches, tutoring grants, improved pre-k, better learning measurements, and parental notification systems.
Myth: “Community service requirements hurt low-income kids who work to help their families”
FACT: Education isn’t just about what you learn in the classroom; it’s also about preparing the next generation to contribute positively to their community. In certain circumstances, this plan also allows waivers in cases of family illness, homelessness, or when a child contributes to their family’s income.
Myth: “Your School Safety Plan contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline”
FACT: Parents know that putting law enforcement in schools makes kids safer, no matter what the Defund the Police crowd claims. This School Safety Plan pulls directly from the Arkansas School Safety Commission’s expertly crafted recommendations and puts student safety over partisan politics.
Myth: “This bill mimics Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill and discriminates against sexual minorities.”
FACT: Most Americans agree that young children shouldn’t be exposed to obscene sexual content in the classroom. Clearly, you haven’t read Florida’s bill, and you have not read this one. This bill isn’t radical or discriminatory – it’s about protecting kids.
Myth: “This plan unfairly gives new teachers a bigger pay bump than veteran teachers.”
FACT: This plan gives districts enough money to raise every teacher’s pay. It’s up to administrators to take steps to retain their employees.
Myth: “Paid maternity leave will cost the taxpayers too much.”
FACT: Districts can either opt into this program – and cover half of the costs – or opt out. When teachers have to quit their job just to have a family, it hurts both school performance and the taxpayer.
Myth: “Without protection, teachers will be fired unjustly.”
FACT: Nothing in this plan denies teachers access to due process if they have been terminated. This simply allows districts to terminate teachers who do not perform up to reasonable standards.
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