New Arkansas L. E. A. R. N. S. Bill Goes Before Senate Education Committee


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The Senate Education Committee prepares to discuss Sarah Sander’s Arkansas LEARNS bill. Picture by Arkansas Advocate.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ new education bill, L.E.A.R.N.S (literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking, and school safety), or SB294 is being sent before the Senate Education Committee. They will be reconvening Feb. 22 at 9 a.m. 

The bill in full is 144 pages long and covers key components such as teacher pay, school safety, indoctrination, vouchers, and gender identity. 

Teacher’s will be getting a $2,000 dollar raise in the next year, plus their minimum pay will increase from $36,000 dollars a year to $50,000 a year. The legislature is offering to help districts with the pay raise if they follow certain conditions, like revised contracts. This bill will create a merit teacher incentive fund program, criteria for it being outlined as student testing scores, teacher mentoring, and teacher instructing in subjects or areas that are affected by the teacher shortage.

This bill will repeal the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, a law that currently protects teachers by forcing administrators to give them a written notice of any termination, suspension, or non-renewal. This gives teachers a chance to appear before the school board to get their job back and are allowed to be represented by an attorney at said hearing. 

A comprehensive review will be conducted by the Department of Education to ensure schools provide safe learning environments. This review will ensure that schools are implementing Arkansas’s school safety laws. School districts will identify an individual responsible for  overseeing school safety. An increase in trained law officials and school security officers on school campuses will be implemented.

This bill proposes the creation of the Arkansas Children’s Educational Freedom Account Program, a voucher program which has the potential to be one of the most robust voucher programs in the U.S. It will provide state funds of up to 90% of the annual per-student public school rate for use on allowable education expenses. This voucher is to be fully implemented by the 2025-2026 school year, meaning all students will be eligible for the program, and no caps on participation will be implemented as long as the program is fully funded. During the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years only certain students will be eligible for the voucher, the voucher can only be used for certain expenses, and caps on participation will be implemented. This money can be spend on private school education, tutoring, uniforms, school supplies, and homeschooling curriculums. 

Following Sander’s executive order issued on her first day in office, teaching anything that could “indoctrinate” (critical race theory, women’s history, etc.) students will be prohibited. The bill will require a review of the Department of Education’s rules, materials, policies, and communications to identify things that promote concepts outside of traditional learning. These may be amended, annulled, or altered if Education Secretary Jacob Oliva sees reason to do so. This will not prohibit the discussion of public policy that some may find unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive. 

Teachers will no longer provide instruction on sexually explicit materials, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, gender identity, or sexual orientation before the fifth grade. Child sexual abuse discussions are allowed, public school districts will implement a child sexual abuse and human trafficking prevention program and will provide training for teachers. Parents/guardians must be notified when such prevention programs occur, allowed to preview the materials, and may exempt their child from the program. 

Find your district’s Representative and contact them to voice your opinion on this bill.