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Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks education at Russellville town hall

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Education Secretary Jacob Oliva answered questions about the Arkansas LEARNS bill.
Governor's Office
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Education Secretary Jacob Oliva answer questions about the Arkansas LEARNS Act in Russellville Monday.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was in Russellville Monday with Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, as she continues hosting several town halls on the rollout of Arkansas LEARNS

Sanders and Oliva answered questions from parents, soon-to-be educators and their families in a Russellville auditorium. The governor reiterated many things she likes about the law. Among those, LEARNS will create diplomas for high school students interested in career and technical education as an alternative to college.

Sanders also said she wanted to “recruit and retain” good teachers. Moreover, the governor said she was proud of the pay raises in LEARNS and said the money would put “real dollars” in teacher bank accounts.

One question came from the mother of a math teacher. The woman said he daughter was a successful teacher, but under Arkansas LEARNS, she had experienced more difficult students and a smaller pay scale.

“Where is the incentive to be a highly effective teacher?” the woman asked.

The governor responded saying the law was providing many opportunities for educators to make more money, and that any district should be fighting to keep good teachers.

“Her district should be fighting like crazy to keep her in the classroom,” Sanders said. "And if they aren’t, that’s a failure on the district's part. And I guarantee you there will be a district who will want to recruit her in and reward her for that work.”

Gov. Sanders said 80% of state funding going to schools must now go to teacher pay, meaning most teachers should make more money overall.

Education Secretary Jacob Oliva thanked Sanders for her support of the LEARNS Act.

“Thank you, governor, for raising our salaries,” he said. “Thank you, legislature, for investing a historic amount of money into supporting public education, more money than the state has ever invested at one single time."

During the event, Oliva talked positively about how LEARNS will move the office of Early Childhood Development under the Department of Education and bring 120 literacy coaches to the state. Throughout the event, Oliva said when describing education, he imagined building an “educational house.”

A woman named Sue Grant said her granddaughter had graduated high school and was about to go to one of the University of Arkansas schools.

“I am concerned about gender dysphoria being taught in schools,” she said. “I know my grandchildren told me that they do have 'furries.' Some of them have sand boxes in the bathrooms.”

Sanders reiterated talking points she has made before, saying the goal is “teaching kids how to think and not what to think.”

“Find out what was actually taught and what was actually said. Don’t believe everything that you see on social media,” said Oliva.

The only time there was applause was when Oliva talked about wanting to teach more “basics.”

“Has anyone done third grade math lately?” he asked, to which the governor replied, “I have, it’s really hard.”

“Nobody knows what we’re doing” Oliva said. “We focus too much on strategies.”

He gave an example of a math assignment asking a student to add two numbers together. In the scenario, the student knows the answer, but is given an assignment where they have to also complete “thought bubble."

“If the kid can’t do the thought bubble, they get the problem wrong. We’re going back to 'can the kid answer and do the math?' We are going to stop chasing these shiny things.”

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