Arkansas LEARNS education reform hits legislature

Allies of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders filed the Arkansas LEARNS bill in the state legislature this week, the anticipated education reforms promised when Huckabee Sanders ran for governor. 

“I believe that giving every child access to a quality education is the civil rights issue of our day,” said the newly inaugurated governor at a press conference.

“I’ve made it absolutely no secret that education reform will be the hallmark of my administration,” she added.

The $300 million bill would double the education spending in the state, raise teacher pay from $36,000 per year to $50,000, and offer $10,000 performance bonuses. The bill would also include loan forgiveness for teachers.

Additionally, the bill would provide for an Education Freedom Account, state funds that parents can use for their child’s approved education expenses, including private school tuition.

“[It] allows parents to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate for their family whether it be public, private, parochial or homeschool,” Huckabee Sanders promised.

“We’re rolling out this program for our most at-risk families first, and within three years it will be available to every family in Arkansas,” she said. 

Although Arkansas’ spends more per pupil than some other states, only one in three children are reading at or above grade level by the third grade, said new Arkansas education secretary, Jacob Oliva.

The move from third grade to fourth grade is critical, said Oliva, explaining why the LEARNS bill emphasizes grade level literacy by third grade.

For older students, the bill includes a dual diploma program to help students hit the workforce with valuable skills immediately after graduating high school.

“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.

As a measure of support among lawmakers, the bill enjoys a total of 78 co-sponsors in both the state House and Senate, according to local KATV.