Red state passes universal school choice legislation

Daily Caller News Foundation

The Arkansas House of Representatives approved a piece of legislation on Thursday that would create a universal school choice program by the 2025-2026 school year.

In a 78-21 vote, the majority-Republican state House passed Arkansas Republican Gov. Sarah Sanders’ LEARNS Act, which would create a school choice program that expands each year to make more students eligible, giving vouchers of $7,413 to students outside of the public school system. The bill, which would also prohibit lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through fifth grade, passed the state Senate 25-7-1 in February.

“This is the beginning of our commitment as a state to put students first, and to look everyone in the eye and say Arkansas will continue to lead in terms of education,” Republican Rep. Keith Brooks, the bill’s House sponsor, told the Associated Press.

If Sanders signs the legislation into law, public school teachers’ base salary would be $50,000, a $14,000 raise from their current salary of $36,000. Teachers are eligible to receive another salary increase of $2,000 in the 2023-2024 school year.

Students who receive a voucher through the state’s school choice program can use the tax-payer to cover the costs of tuition, testing and school supplies while in the 2024-2025 school year, vouchers can be spent on tutoring, course fees and college admission exams. The cap of school choice transfers within the district will be removed.

The state Senate needs to vote on an amendment that was added late clarifying a terminated teacher’s right to a school board hearing before the bill heads to Sanders desk, which could be as early as next week, according to 4029 News.

Arkansas’ school choice program mimics Arizona’s Education Savings Account scholarship system, which currently makes every K-12 student eligible for receive taxpayer-funded vouchers if they pursue an education outside the public school system.

Since taking office Sanders has been focused on giving parents more choices in their child’s education and rewarding “good teachers with smart incentives,” according to Sanders’ education plan.

“Every single kid in Arkansas deserves access to a quality education,” Sanders tweeted after her bill was introduced. “It’s time to pass the most transformational education reform in America.”

Sanders and Brooks did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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