Gov. Huckabee Sanders signs Arkansas school choice bill into law

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the massive educational reform bill she championed on Wednesday.  

After passing the House with an amendment last week, SB 294, known as the LEARNS bill, returned to Senate which approved it 26-8 on Tuesday, sending it on to the governor. 

The bill would provide Education Freedom Accounts, state funds that parents can use for their child’s approved education expenses, including private school tuition. Eligibility is limited by income thresholds for the first three years before it becomes fully universal. 

“[It] allows parents to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate for their family whether it be public, private, parochial or homeschool,” the governor said previously, as reported by The Lion.  

“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. 

The measure also promises to raise teacher pay from $36,000 per year to $50,000, and offer $10,000 performance bonuses – funding which some school choice supporters say would be better left out.

“Parents in Arkansas deserve to send their kids to better schools, and the universal school choice within this bill is the right way to do that,” said Ted Patterson, vice president of policy for Young Americans for Liberty, in a statement shared with The Lion.

“It simply shouldn’t be mixed in with unrelated expenses,” he continued, offering examples such as expanded employee benefits and other administrative costs. 

At the bill signing, Sanders lauded the efforts of lawmakers to pass the bill, and became emotional as she recounted the story of a young bullied student whose family desperately saved every penny they could to get their son out of the public school and into a better situation. 

“When I put my signature on this bill and make it law, the failed status quo will end,” Sanders said. The governor also added that school choice will make all schools better.

An amendment to the bill, which added an emergency declaration, means it will go into effect June 30, in advance of the next school year.