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Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces sweeping education reform

By Ben Marquis
|
February 10, 2023

For a growing number of conservative Republicans nationwide, education reform has become a top issue at the state and local levels.

In one of her first major acts since taking office, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveiled on Wednesday a sweeping education reform effort known as the LEARNS Plan, The Hill reported.

"Quality education is the civil rights issue of our day"

"This is the most substantial overhaul of our state’s education system in Arkansas history and frankly it couldn’t come soon enough," Sanders said during a Wednesday press conference.

In reference to her nationally televised State of the Union rebuttal speech Tuesday night, the governor noted, "As I said in my remarks, I believe that giving every child access to a quality education is the civil rights issue of our day."

"We will never subject our kids to indoctrination and we will never, ever expose our young children to inappropriate material," Sanders vowed. "Most importantly, this legislation ensures that every Arkansas student graduates with the education and training they need to succeed in life."

The governor added that her plan serves as a "comprehensive blueprint to meet teachers’ needs, respect parents’ rights, and most importantly deliver the quality education that our kids deserve."

Major reforms to education

Per a release from the Arkansas governor's office, the LEARNS plan would focus on improving literacy rates for K-3 students, in part through the deployment of literacy coaches where needed around the state as well as $500 per student grants to cover tutoring for those who are struggling.

For older students, the focus is on ensuring they are "career-ready" upon graduation, with online resources provided to assist new job seekers, a 75-hour community service prerequisite for graduation, and the ability to pick and choose the courses they want to enroll in from around the state.

For students and parents, the plan would launch "education freedom accounts," phased in over a three-year period before becoming universally available, that would provide parents with the resources to enroll their children in any school they choose that best fits their needs.

It would also repeal the limit on the number of charter schools allowed in the state and impose no limits on the number of times students could transfer to the school of their choice.

As for Arkansas teachers, the plan would raise the minimum annual salary from $36,000 to $50,000 and provide a $10,000 raise to all others as well as $10,000 bonuses for high-performing teachers.

School choice for all; ending the teacher shortage

Local CBS affiliate KFSM reported that Gov. Sanders' LEARNS plan, which has not yet been filed by supportive legislators, has the dual goal of extending school choice to all students and parents while also ending a critical shortage of teachers in the state.

The governor said of her plan, "I believe every child growing up in Arkansas should have access to a quality education, a good-paying job, and a better life right here in our state, and I believe Arkansas LEARNS is how together we will achieve it."

To be sure, some Arkansas teachers were reported to be skeptical about the governor's plan, largely over concerns that the school choice vouchers will divert funding from public schools as well as prohibitions against critical race theory and other forms of "indoctrination" they view as constraints on their ability to teach.

Teachers will get a raise one way or another

Meanwhile, the outlet noted that the Republican-controlled Arkansas legislature has already begun working on a somewhat similar though more narrowly focused bill known as the RAISE Act.

Like the governor's proposal, the RAISE Act would increase the minimum salary for teachers to $50,000 per year and provide a $10,000 raise to all full-time teachers who already earn more than the new minimum.