LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas LEARNS bill is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature after its passage in the Senate on Tuesday marked the measure’s final approval by the General Assembly.
The 145-page bill quickly moved through the legislative process since its Feb. 8 introduction, backed by the Republican supermajority supporting the cornerstone legislation of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
LEARNS will make several changes to the Arkansas education system, including a voucher program broadening support for school choice, raising starting teacher pay to among the highest in the country and enlarging support for technical trade education. The bill also emphasized literacy requirements for third and fourth-grade students.
Detractors of the bill have expressed concern with its $297 million year-one price tag, $150 million of which is new money, according to Department of Education calculations.
Others have expressed concern about broadening the impact that school choice efforts will have on struggling public schools, as well as the measure ending the 1983 Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.
Sanders began presenting Arkansas LEARNS as part of her gubernatorial campaign and emphasized it in her inauguration speech, in which she said she wished to be known as “The Education Governor.”
The governor released a statement shortly after the bill’s passage, calling its measures the “biggest, boldest, most conservative education reforms in America.”
Today’s final passage of the biggest, boldest, most conservative education reforms in America makes Arkansas a blueprint for the country. Arkansas LEARNS will raise teacher pay, empower parents, and give our students the skills to succeed in life. These changes can’t come soon enough,” Sanders said. “I’m deeply grateful for the legislators who worked around the clock to pass Arkansas LEARNS by massive margins: 78-21 in the House and 26-8 in the Senate. I’m ready to sign it into law tomorrow and end the failed status quo that has governed our education system for far too long. 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. Sarah Huckabee Sanders
It is unclear if the bill will not face additional challenges even with the governor’s signature. Some committee testimony during the legislative process claimed the LEARNS plan and its voucher formula might go against the precedent-setting 1994 Lakeview decision that established school funding criteria in Arkansas.