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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders details impending education reform package

From the stairwell, The Governor detailed more of her education plan. She hopes to improve teacher pay and give parents money to enroll their children in school.
Josie Lenora
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders details more of her education plan speaking in the Arkansas State Capitol building on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders expanded on the details of her education plan Wednesday. In front of a crowded stairwell of supporters, Sanders called education the “civil rights issue of our day.”

Sanders detailed how she plans to use state dollars to help parents enroll their children in the school of their choosing.

“Our new education freedom account allows parents to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate for their family, whether it be public, private, parochial, or homeschool,” she said.

The governor says she also intends to give tutoring grants to students who are struggling to read. She also plans to create a dual high school diploma system to help students enter the workforce.

Sanders said she also intends to raise minimum teacher salaries to make them more competitive with other states.

“We will show that Arkansas values our teachers by giving every teacher a minimum salary of $50,000,” she said. “We will offer complete student loan forgiveness to teachers willing to commit to staying in Arkansas in the areas of highest need.”

She also promised bonuses for teachers who are making “meaningful gains” in student performance.

Sanders says the law will include a ban on Critical Race Theory, with language similar to an executive order she signed earlier this year.

“Our goal is not to teach kids what to think, but how to think,” she said to loud applause.

House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, worked as an educator for 20 years. She said she's against any education plan which contains school vouchers.

“You get private entities coming in and taking money away which may go to the students in private schools,” she said, explaining that vouchers could be “depleting our resources in the public schools.”

Weeks ago, McCullough sponsored separate “clean” legislation to raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000. She is against putting teacher raises in an omnibus bill.

“You can't have a bill that says we're doing all these great things for education in Arkansas while you're systematically destroying the public schools and what they have stood for,” McCullough said.

The governor estimates her plan could cost $300 million in the first year. She says the state’s Bureau of Legislative Research will take the lead in writing the bill’s language based on her policy recommendations.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.