LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas LEARNS Act was officially signed into law by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday.
The education reform package has been in headlines across the country for a few months. Governor Sanders said it will now put the boldest, most conservative education reforms in the country into place in Arkansas schools.
Just hours after the bill was signed into law, Central High School students protested on the State Capitol steps Wednesday, hoping to have a voice when it comes to the new law.
The students also wrote a letter to the governor about their opposition to her signing this into law and delivered it to her office before the protest, leaving it with her receptionist. Students said it got more than 1,000 signatures.
“I think with the fact that this is going to affect the children our voices need to be heard,” student Blanche Finzer said.
The students leading the protest were the same ones who came to the Senate Education Committee meeting Monday to speak against the bill.
“We were continuously shut down,” Finzer said.
Public comments were limited to just the amendments to the bill since that was the new element being voted on by members. Students at the protest said they were prepared to speak even on those amendments, but still felt dismissed and cut off.
Ethan Walker was another student who hoped to speak before the committee Monday. He said he felt disrespected as a student and member of the community when his speech was cut off.
“It felt like our voices didn’t really matter,” Walker said.
Walker and Finzer both said they support parts of this new law like the raises for teacher salaries, but they have several concerns with it as well – including the voucher program and prohibiting “indoctrination” in schools.
“I think it was wanting to help a very specific set of children specifically the affluent white children in Arkansas,” Finzer said.
Sanders said this law is for kids across Arkansas and she even shared several stories of families she has met in the state who faced struggles she says her bill will now prevent.
“We have been failing them – not just in school, but in life, and that’s why we prioritized the Arkansas LEARNS initiative right out of the gate,” Sanders said.
Students said they wish they could see their voices being heard as well.
“I think the rhetoric right now is that we don’t know what we are talking about, but we do,” Finzer said.
Secretary of Education Dr. Jacob Oliva said the next steps of LEARNS Act will be looking at its rules and regulations.
He said they have invited opponents to the table all along to give input, and they will continue to do so as they determine how to apply the bill. There will be a series of public hearings to create the rules and regulations, that will eventually have to be accepted by the legislature for this law.