LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The 2023 legislative session in right around the corner in Arkansas, and lawmakers are discussing some important topics that will be on the agenda.
One focus of the upcoming session is on education, according to Senator Bart Hester, president of the Senate Pro Tempore.
Much of the conversation surrounding education is specifically centered around school choice.
“We’re going to work on educational freedom, and that’s for every kid in Arkansas,” Hester said. “Our biggest priority in Arkansas is parental empowerment through choice.”
Senator Joyce Elliott is leaving the legislature once the 2023 session rolls around, however she said she still believes the focus needs to be more on public schools rather than school choice.
“We can do better if we decide to,” Elliott said. “It’s about priorities.”
Hester said this session, lawmakers could consider ways to get certain students out of their zoned district, if needed for those students, and send them to private schools through scholarships.
He said his focus is on educating a child rather than protecting an institution.
“I want to focus on money following a child and educating a child not supporting some institution.”
Elliott, on the other hand, said while she is not against private, charter or homeschooling, she believes public funding for education needs to go specifically towards building public schools from the ground up, focusing on the community the district is in, and empowering the people in it.
“Children should not be held hostage to their zip code in a bad school…who disagrees with that?’ Elliott said. “But evidently someone must be okay with it because if you’re willing to take out a few and leave the rest behind you’re still leaving kids behind.”
Elliott said her concern is using public funds for private schools, charter schools and homeschooling instead of schools that are meant to be funded by the state.
“To me, the saving grace for our country is public schools,” she said.
Hester argued that this does not take away from the state’s support of public schools in Arkansas.
“We’re very supportive of our public schools in Arkansas,” he said. “44 cents out of every dollar that comes to the state of Arkansas goes to public school systems.”
Hester added that people will see the continued support of the public school system once this legislative session begins.
He also said one thing everyone can expect to be on the table this session is increasing teacher pay. He added that this does have support from both Republicans and Democrats this legislative session.