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Arkansas LEARNS Act officially signed into law by Gov. Sanders

After passing in the Senate yesterday, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders officially signed the Arkansas LEARNS Bill into law on Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On Wednesday, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders officially signed the Arkansas LEARNS Act into law. 

The governor, who considers this bill to be "the boldest, most far-reaching, most conservative education reforms in the country," wasted no time signing the bill after its advancement from the Senate just yesterday. 

The Republican-held Senate voted 26-8 to send to Sanders the 145-page bill, which also raises minimum teacher salaries and puts new restrictions on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill first made its way out of the House last week. Now, after weeks of discussion, Gov. Sanders has signed it into law. 

Following the bill's passing in the Senate, Sanders said the proposal will be a "blueprint for the country."

Over the course of three years, an “education freedom account” plan to pay for private and home schooling costs equal to 90% of the state’s per-student funding for public schools. That amount is currently $7,413. 

It’s part of a renewed push for such voucher programs following the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been fueled in part by fights over school curriculum.  

SB294 has received both praise and pushback from local politicians, education leaders, students, and everyday Arkansans after Gov. Sanders first laid out the long-awaited plan in early February.

Senate Bill 294 is being hailed as the framework for Arkansas' future in education, which hones in on expunging certain materials from school curriculum and raising teacher pay.

  • Staff pay: Teacher's starting salaries will be raised to $50k
  • School choice: Students no longer have a "maximum" number of transfers in or out of a school district
  • School safety: Training for school officers and educators to improve safety in classrooms
  • Indoctrination: Items that would "indoctrinate students with ideologies such as Critical Race Theory"

Fellow Republican lawmakers, like State Rep. Brit McKenzie, R-Benton County, shared their support for the bill stating that it's the "best bill for our students." 

Democrats and teachers’ groups opposed to the plan have said it will threaten public schools by diverting resources to private schools that aren’t required to accept all students.

"Public schools educate over 90% of students in Arkansas, but now they will be forced to compete for public tax dollars against private schools that don’t have to follow the same rules," said Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville). "Private schools will be able to discriminate against students with disabilities or of different faiths, and the Republicans in this legislature have decided to finance that with your tax money. Our goal as policymakers should be to ensure that every kid everywhere has the same access to the same excellent education.”

Rep. Tippi McCullough (D-Little Rock) joined Leding saying LEARNS would "dismantle and defund" public schools and claimed the voucher system "has not worked anywhere ever."

"As a teacher for three decades, I am worried about what this will do to the teaching profession. It does raise the minimum salary, but it revokes workplace protections and unnecessarily voids a uniform salary schedule that was mandated by the courts," McCullough said.

Opponents also have said they’re concerned that the legislation could create unfunded mandates for districts in the long run.

The criticisms also arose from students. Just last week, many at Central High School organized a walkout to dispute the Arkansas LEARNS Bill.

Despite the mixed reactions, Gov. Sanders has shared her confidence in what this bill could mean for Arkansas students and their futures.

“Every kid should have access to a quality education and a path to a good paying job and better life right here in Arkansas,” Gov. Sanders said in a statement.

To read the complete Arkansas LEARNS bill, please click here. 

The Associate Press contributed to this article. 

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