Arkansas Becomes Fifth State with Universal Education Opportunity. Which State Will be Next?
Arkansas families are celebrating today as Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed the Learning, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking, and School Safety (LEARNS) Plan into law. ALEC applauds Governor Sanders and legislative champions like ALEC Board Member, Senator Jim Dotson for securing this victory on behalf of Arkansas parents, families and teachers.
Consistent with ALEC’s Essential Policy Solutions for 2023, the LEARNS Act passed the House and Senate with supermajority support, running through the entire legislative process at a rapid pace. The bill implements a number of significant changes to the state’s educational system, including:
- Creation of a universal education scholarship account (ESA) program that will allow all Arkansas families to participate by 2025. Funding for the program will be 90% of the state funds otherwise allocated for the student’s education in a public school.
- Authorizes unlimited charter schools in the state
- Raises the minimum base pay for teachers from $36,000 to $50,000. This will move Arkansas from 48th in the nation to 4th in the nation for highest minimum teacher pay. Teachers already making more than the new minimum will also receive a raise.
- Creates a bonus incentive for good teachers of up to $10,000.
- Authorizes paid maternity leave for teachers.
- Creates 120 literacy coaching positions to help students across the state who are behind in their reading skills.
- Creates a $500 scholarship for K-3 students that are not reading at grade level. The scholarship can be used for a variety of supplemental education services aimed at improving their literacy.
With the Governor’s signature, Arkansas joins Iowa and Utah as the three states to pass universal ESAs just this year. West Virginia and Arizona also passed a universal ESA program in 2021 and 2022, respectively, bringing the total number of states with universal ESAs to five. These programs recognize that not every school will be the best fit for every student – so parents should be empowered to place their student in whatever educational environment is best suited for their unique and individual needs.
The LEARNS Act represents one of the boldest and most transformational education system redesigns in our country’s history. The bill not only empowers parents to take charge of their student’s education, but it makes sure that quality teachers are rewarded for their good work and takes meaningful steps to address illiteracy in elementary school grade levels. All of these policy changes will combine to create tremendous benefits for students and families in the state for years to come.
Will Florida, Texas or another state deliver universal education opportunity next? We may find out soon.