LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ massive education reform bill is officially headed to her desk to be signed into law.
This comes after lawmakers officially passed the bill and new amendments Tuesday.
The bill has had overwhelming support from Republicans in the legislature from day one, but just a few in the party voted it down.
A total of five Republican lawmakers voted against the bill, between the House and Senate.
“I know it is not popular, I know it went against the Republican Party platform, but right is right and wrong is wrong,” State Rep. Jim Wooten said.
Wooten voted against the bill on Thursday when the bill came to the House floor for a vote. He spoke out against the bill on the House floor that day, telling members this bill would come back to haunt them if it passed.
“I have found through my 82 years -almost 82 years – that the majority is not always right,” Wooten said.
Wooten said that he was threatened by some, who he did not want to name, if he did not vote for the bill. He said he has heard other Republicans faced similar threats.
“I was told that I would pay a price,” he said. “That is fine with me.”
Wooten said he even questions the politics of his colleagues in the GOP passing the bill.
“I would say that 50% of them are trying to get close to the governor, and the other 50% are afraid of her,” he said. “That’s just my personal opinion.”
More than 100 Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill. The bill also had a long list of GOP co-sponsors.
Senator Breanne Davis first introduced the bill and has helped push it through the legislature for weeks.
She spoke on behalf of the bill for the last time, with its amendments, on Tuesday on the Senate floor.
“We are called to fight for our kids,” she said. “We are called to fight for our teachers.”
Senate Majority Leader Bart Hester had also been a primary supporter of the bill, even before it was officially filed.
“We all want what is best for our students and I think we have found it,” Hester said Tuesday, ahead of the bill’s final passage.
Wooten, however, said his opposition to the bill is based on constitutional concerns.
One major concern is over the voucher incentive, which would use public school funds to allow certain students in struggling districts to attend private schools, if their families do not have the means to do so on their own.
“Any dollar taken out of general revenue is a dollar lost to public education,” he said.
The majority of Republicans in the legislature have said since day one that they believe allowing parents to decide where their kids go to school, rather than a zip code, actually fulfills a constitutional obligation to provide adequate education in the state.
In Wooten’s comments on the House floor Thursday, he said he even fears the impact this would have on high school football, with private schools potentially able to recruit athletes from public schools using vouchers.
Another concern of Wooten’s is the budget estimated from the bill. He said he believes it will cost more than supporters realize.
Wooten said his opposition to the bill is also on behalf of his constituents.
“I have gotten over 300 emails from people and superintendents,” he said. “Without exception, every email I got from them said ‘Vote no on 294.’”
Most Republicans maintain that this bill is designed for the children in Arkansas, and that is one they trust for their own kid’s education and the future of education in the state.
“We have to do something different,” Hester said. “Different now and drastically different. It is not fair to the students of Arkansas that we’re 49th in education.”