Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveiled a series of major education reforms, including universal school choice, after anticipating the plan Tuesday in her response to President Biden’s State of the Union address.
“I believe that giving every child access to a quality education is the civil rights issue of our day,” said Huckabee Sanders at Wednesday’s press conference.
“I’ve made it absolutely no secret that education reform will be the hallmark of my administration,” she added.
Despite spending half of the state’s budget on education, only 35 percent of Arkansas third graders can read at grade level and nearly half don’t meet the state’s math readiness benchmark, said the governor.
Huckabee Sanders touted the legislation plan as “the most substantial overhaul of our state’s education system in Arkansas history.”
“And frankly, it couldn’t come soon enough.”
The LEARN reforms proposed by the governor include an educational savings account (ESA) program to allow parents to choose the best educational options for their children, higher teacher pay, performance bonuses for the best teachers and student loan forgiveness to recruit teachers into areas of highest need.
The ESA program will allow students to enroll at whichever school is most appropriate for them, whether a public, a private parochial or a home school.
In its first phase, however, the program will be targeted for “the most at-risk families,” said the governor.
The reforms would also include what Huckabee Sanders called a “dual diploma” program that would ensure high school students graduate with skills to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
“When a student graduates from high school, we should not just be asking the question, ‘What do they know?’ We should be asking, ‘What can they do?’” said Huckabee Sanders about the dual diploma program.
The governor was also adamant about reclaiming schools from leftist ideologues who want to indoctrinate, but not educate kids.
“We will never subject our kids to indoctrination, and we will never, ever expose our young children to inappropriate material,” she promised.
The floor for teacher pay under the proposal is $50,000 with performance bonuses of up to $10,000 available to the best teachers.
The LEARN plan will also deploy extra teachers to areas that are suffering from low literacy rates amongst students and will include $500 tutoring grants for those who are struggling to read.
Huckabee Sanders said that the aim of the plan is to promote “literacy as the foundation for learning.”
The governor’s announcement came after she spent part of her official Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night discussing education reform.