LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The LEARNS Act proposed by Governor Sarah Sanders passed through the House of Representatives Thursday at the State Capitol with overwhelming support.
“The fact of the matter is unfortunately we’ve been at kind of the bottom when it comes to education,” House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) said.
Shepherd said this bill will change that.
“I feel good about the bill that we have and obviously from the vote, a significant number of our membership feel good about the bill,” he said.
For the 21 who voted against it, including Rep. Tippi McCullough (D-Little Rock) this has major issues.
McCullough said vouchers, repealing the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, the teacher pay plan, and lack thereof for support staff, are her main concerns.
She said, sadly, there are parts of the bill she agrees with, but those concerns caused her to vote no.
“I wish it had been split up into many pieces,” McCullough said. “I wish some people would have worked really hard on the separate pieces and I think there could have been widespread support.”
McCullough said she is also concerned with how fast the bill made its way through the legislature, though Shepherd said that is not abnormal for a bill as transformational as this one.
He said in years past, even under different administrations, bills have gone through just as quickly when they involve this many changes.
SB294 is now headed to the Senate Education Committee for them to approve an amendment that gives superintendents power to create teacher pay schedules, allowing teachers to earn more over time based on experience and education.
After that, it will head to the Governor’s desk for approval.
On Thursday, after the bill passed, Gov. Sanders released a statement saying she was ready to sign it into law.
“The Arkansas House made history today by passing my Arkansas LEARNS bill by an overwhelming majority. I have my pen ready to sign the boldest, most far-reaching, most conservative education reforms in the country into law after the Senate passes this amended version early next week,” Sanders said. “These sweeping changes will address teachers’ needs, defend parents’ rights, and, most importantly, give our kids the quality education they deserve. Thank you to our friends in the House for their support – Arkansans can’t wait any longer for this much-needed legislation.”