Arkansas LEARNS bill on its way to Sanders' desk

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she would sign the Arkansas LEARNS bill on Wednesday, one day after it received final approval from the Senate.

The omnibus bill includes an increase in starting teacher pay to $50,000 a year, which will put Arkansas in the top 10 in the country.

It also includes 120 literacy coaches and $500 tutoring stipends for K-3 students struggling with reading.

Some lawmakers had concerns about Educational Freedom Accounts which would create universal school choice for all students by the 2025-2026 school year.

The bill would cost $298 million in the first year, with $150 million being new money, according to a fiscal impact statement released by the Arkansas Department of Education. The increase in teachers’ salaries would make up $180 million of the cost each year.

The Department of Education estimates about 7,000 students would take advantage of the Education Freedom Accounts in the first year, and 14,000 would participate in the second year, according to a fiscal impact statement released by the Arkansas Department of Education last week. The cost estimate is nearly $48 million in year one and $97.5 million in year two, according to the fiscal impact statement.

Sanders called the bill one of the “biggest, boldest, most conservative education reforms in America.”

“These changes can’t come soon enough,” Sanders said in a statement. “I’m deeply grateful for the legislators who worked around the clock to pass Arkansas LEARNS by massive margins: 78-21 in the House and 26-8 in the Senate. I’m ready to sign it into law tomorrow and end the failed status quo that has governed our education system for far too long. Every kid should have access to a quality education and a path to a good paying job and better life right here in Arkansas.”

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