LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Sarah Huckabee has promised Arkansas she will be the “education governor.” Of the eight executive orders she signed in her first two days of office, two of them focus on learning.
On Tuesday, Sanders signed an order that directs the Secretary of Education to review that department, contractors, guest speakers and lecturers do not “indoctrinate.” The order added that it violates Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act. The education secretary is also expected to review policies to end “prohibited indoctrination.”
On Wednesday, Sanders signed her second executive order related to education. The order prioritizes her “LEARNS” initiative, which includes expanding early childhood education, improving literacy and bringing together groups responsible for teaching kids.
Sanders noted that she hopes this order will go hand in hand with future legislation that would expand school choice and provide further access to private and charter schools for students.
The state’s new Secretary of Education, Jacob Oliva, is hitting the ground running alongside Sanders. Olivia sat down with the Senate Education Committee Wednesday morning for the first time in a jam-packed meeting.
Gwen Faulkenberry was one of the educators who sat in on the meeting, hoping to show a sign of support for teachers across the state as lawmakers begin what is expected to be a very impactful session for education.
“If we can get a seat at the table, we might be able to help shape some of those policies,” Faulkenberry said.
Faulkenberry said hearing Oliva discuss priorities with lawmakers left her hopeful he will act wisely as secretary, specifically having a background in education himself.
“I hope and pray that that is the way this will unfold,” she said.
School choice was brought up early on in this discussion with lawmakers when Sen. Linda Chesterfield requested Oliva visit the struggling public schools that would be most impacted by expanding school choice.
Democrats in the legislature have expressed concern that using funds to provide vouchers for students to go to private schools or have more access to charter schools would only be taking away from the needs of the public schools that are declining.
“We need to make every school a school of choice and it’s running down and it’s running down and it’s not warm safe and dry that cannot happen,” Chesterfield added.
Faulkenberry noted that she agreed with Chesterfield on this concern.
“The way to fix public education is invest in public education, not funnel money out of it to private institutions or even public charters,” Faulkenberry said,
Oliva assured Chesterfield and the committee he would see both sides of the issue.
Oliva said, as a former educator himself, he knows the power of seeing things firsthand to understand the school’s needs.
“You 1000% have my commitment,” he added.
Oliva later stood alongside cabinet members as Sanders signed the most recent executive orders on Wednesday.
“A zip code that a student is born in and lives in should not define the opportunities they are afforded to,” Oliva said.
Oliva emphasized that his priorities are the students across Arkansas and ensuring they receive the best education possible.
“Learning is the most important thing we can do for them and keeping them safe to make sure we can provide high-quality learning environments,” he said.
School choice is just one of the many topics related to education lawmakers say will be on the agenda. In a press conference Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers spoke out on policies pushed by Republicans and Governor Sanders that they will push back on, specifically adding that they will say yes to teachers this session and no to vouchers.
Oliva will join lawmakers at his first House Education Committee Meeting Thursday morning.