LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders put a cornerstone piece of her legislative agenda into law Wednesday by signing the Arkansas LEARNS bill.
The act represents an overhaul of the Arkansas education system and was a key point of Sanders’ gubernatorial campaign. Its provisions include an increase in the school voucher program to broaden school choice, raising starting teacher pay to among the highest in the country and an emphasis on literacy requirements for elementary students.
The bill cleared its last legislative hurdle Tuesday with passage by the Senate. Sanders thanked the legislators in a statement shortly after that vote.
“Today’s final passage of the biggest, boldest, most conservative education reforms in America makes Arkansas a blueprint for the country. Arkansas LEARNS will raise teacher pay, empower parents, and give our students the skills to succeed in life. These changes can’t come soon enough,” the governor said, adding that she planned to sign it into law.
The bill was moved quickly through the legislature after its Feb. 8 introduction, with the Republican supermajority supporting the governor’s plan.
Opponents of the bill have called out its adding $150 million to the education budget in year one and $250 million in new money for year two, according to Department of Education calculations. The voucher program’s impact on struggling public schools has been another concern.
It is unclear if the bill will face court challenges after the Wednesday signing. Committee testimony during the legislative process claimed the LEARNS plan and its voucher formula might go against the precedent-setting 1994 Lakeview decision that established school funding criteria in Arkansas.