LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Families who homeschool their children descended on the Capitol on Tuesday for Homeschool Day, where they heard Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders speak about how her education reform bill might help them.
“I’ve always believed parents know what’s best for their kids,” Sanders said during her remarks.
The Conservative group Family Council hosted the event, which was attended by hundreds of kids and their parents. Lawmakers and Education Commissioner Dr. Jacob Oliva also spoke.
“Deciding to teach your kids yourself is no small commitment,” Sanders said.
Sanders spoke about the Education Freedom Account plan in her Arkansas LEARNS bill that was filed Monday. The plan would allow parents to use state money, traditionally restricted to public education, for charter, parochial or homeschooling. It will be a phased-in plan, meaning it will take several years before the homeschool community gets the benefit.
“That’s exciting,” Homeschool parent Gwen Clement said. “That would be really awesome.”
The Clement family moved from California several months ago to pursue ministry work in Harrison. They said the Western state’s school choice program did not involve homeschooling, so they were happy to learn it could help their four children.
“Oh, it’s amazing,” Clement said.
In the broader education community, the bill still faced much skepticism Tuesday. With just a day before it goes to committee, some educators feared the 144-page bill was being forced through.
“Because they put so much in it, there’s no way people can digest all of it that quickly,” Arkansas teacher Margo Reed said.
Reed said there are some elements of the bill she somewhat supports, but she does not support most of it. Though she said she respects parents who decide to homeschool their children, she does not think taxpayer money should be used to subsidize it.
The controversial elements caused her to be against the bill immediately. This included the revoking of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and language about how the funds will be raised to pay for the plan in its entirety. She also said she did not agree with third-grade students being retained if they are not on grade level in reading or teacher salaries being frozen unless a district enacts its own salary schedule.
Reed said the plethora of issues will likely lead to veteran teachers leaving and the education system taking a hit.
“I feel like this is the beginning of the end of public education,” Reed said.
The crowd at the Capitol on Tuesday largely agreed with the education reform package, which will go before committee Wednesday at 9 a.m.