Reagan Reese on March 8, 2023
Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders signed education legislation into law on Wednesday that will create a universal school choice program by the 2025-2026 school year.
The LEARNS Law, co-sponsored by 25 members of the state Senate and 55 co-sponsors in the state House of Representatives, establishes a school choice program that increases the number of students eligible each year, giving vouchers of $7,413 to students outside of the public school system. The 144-page omnibus education law bans lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in K-5 classrooms.
“The failed status quo ended today when Governor Sanders signed the biggest, boldest, most conservative education reform into law,” Alexa Henning, Sanders’ communications director, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “By the passage of [Arkansas] LEARNS, Arkansas will be a blueprint for the country. It raises teacher pay, empowers parents and gives our students the skills to succeed in life. Every kid should have access to a quality education and a path to a good paying job and better life right here in Arkansas.”
In a 78-21 vote on March 2, the majority-Republican state House passed the education bill following the state Senate’s 25-7-1 vote in February.
The law removed a transfer cap that limited the number of students from each public school district that could enter the school choice program. Under the legislation, in the 2023-2024 school year students can use their vouchers to cover various education costs such as tuition, school supplies and college placement test costs.
Under LEARNS, teachers will now have a base salary of $50,000, up from their previous base salary of $36,000. In the upcoming school year, teachers will be able to receive a $2,000 raise.
Since taking office, education has been a priority for Sanders, including increasing incentives for “good teachers” and giving parents more freedom to choose who educates their child, according to Sanders’ education plan.
“The best decisions for our students are made with teachers and parents at the table. Educators have spent countless hours combing through the bill’s 144 pages and each time we come away with more questions than answers,” the Arkansas Education Association, a teachers union within the state, said in a press release. “At every turn, our requests to meet with the governor or the bill’s authors have been ignored or deflected.”
“With new education freedom accounts, parents will be able to send their kids to whatever school works best: whether it is public, private, parochial or homeschool,” Sanders said before signing the bill into law. “Some have said this defunds public schools, but let me be clear, all of the research shows that the exact opposite is true. Most families end up staying in their local school district but when parents are empowered to choose, all schools work harder to attract students. Competition breeds excellence.”
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