School choice legislation passed the Republican-held Arkansas State Legislature on Tuesday afternoon and will head to Gov. Sarah Sanders’ desk for her signature.
Senate Bill 294, also known as “Arkansas LEARNS”, passed 26-8, marking the latest win for school choice. Arkansas is the latest of the Republican-led states to follow in the footsteps of Arizona, which became the first state to pass universal education scholarship accounts to all 1.1 million of their K-12 students in 2022.
“A HISTORIC WIN for parents, teachers, and students that will set the education model for the nation, I’m ready to sign it into law tomorrow and end the failed status quo,” Sanders tweeted. “Every kid will soon have access to a quality education and path to a good paying job and better life, right here in Arkansas.”
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The Arkansas legislation will broaden school choice and includes a plan for the state to adopt universal choice by the 2025-2026 school year. The bill will gradually provide vouchers through “Education Freedom Accounts,” which equal 90% of funding allocated per student to each public school district in the previous year.
Some groups of students are eligible to receive the voucher for the 2023-2024 school year, including those who have disabilities; are homeless; have a parent who is active-duty in the military; attended an F-rated school in the previous school year; or are entering kindergarten for the first time.
“This isn’t an us vs. them, red vs. blue, teachers vs. the legislature,” Republican Sen. Breanne Davis said during the Senate session. “This is all of us working together and rooting for the success of our children.”
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The bill also seeks to eliminate critical race theory from classrooms, will fund 120 new literacy coaches for students, and will increase the base salary for teachers from $36,000 to $50,000 — the fourth-highest for teachers in the U.S.
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Arkansas LEARNS also bans instruction on topics about sexually explicit materials, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms before fifth grade. The legislation also requires students to complete 75 community service hours in order to receive their diploma.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
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