LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In her first major news conference, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced her much anticipated Arkansas LEARNS education plan on Wednesday.
Calling it the most “far-reaching, bold and conservative education reforms anywhere in the entire country,” Sanders outlined significant changes to teacher pay, school choice and early education with an emphasis on literacy.
Under the proposed plan, Sanders said teachers will be paid $50,000 per year, making Arkansas the fourth-highest in the nation for teacher pay. Additional incentives will be complete student loan forgiveness for teachers in high-need areas and $10,000 in bonuses available to high-performing teachers.
The proposed legislation would create an Education Freedom Account to fund school choice for Arkansas families, the govenor said. This program would be phased in, with an initial emphasis on what Sanders called “at-risk families” followed by an ultimate state-wide rollout in three years.
Sanders emphasized how the choice of where to send students would empower parents. Here she also made the point that education emphasis would be on reading, writing and arithmetic, with “no indoctrination.”
Education would be to allow graduates to “succeed early in life,” the governor said.
EARLY EDUCATION AND LITERACY
Sanders said that early education improvements would be accomplished by streamlining existing programs, including program funding.
In early education the emphasis would be on literacy, emphasizing that children are able to read at a third-grade level by the time they graduate from that grade.
To assist in this role, Sanders said the program would call for 120 highly trained Literacy Coaches across the state, coupled with $500 grants available for student families to take advantage of the service.
Students would be able to choose career-diploma paths in high school to choose their post-graduation path, the governor said. They would choose courses from a course catalog to facilitate this.
Sander’s speech was followed by House Speaker Rep. Matthew Shepard (R-El Dorado) who indicated his support for the plan and his looking forward to it being debated in the legislature. He was followed by Senate Majority Leader Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) who said he was “excited to get this bill passed.”
Sec. of Education Jacob Oliva also spoke, calling the governor’s proposal “one of the most historic moments in education” by it creating different pathways for students.
During questions, the governor said the plan was estimated to cost $300 million, with $150 million of that amount as new spending.
The plan would have accountability measures in place, she said.
The governor’s presentation was inside the state capitol.