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America’s schools are failing our kids. Between unscientific pandemic lockdowns, new curriculums designed to indoctrinate students, and years of administrative neglect, American children aren’t learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic anymore. It’s unacceptable and time for change.
It’s time for a new generation of Republican leadership on education. The Sanders administration is not interested in being a caretaker of the failed status quo. When we took office, we vowed to be changemakers for the people of Arkansas.
And just a month into our new administration, we are already delivering on that promise.
Arkansas is the place where children once barred from the schoolhouse are now memorialized in bronze at the statehouse. We believe giving every child access to a quality education – regardless of their race or income – is the civil rights issue of our day.
We recently unveiled Arkansas LEARNS, the most far-reaching, bold, and conservative education reforms in the entire country. For Arkansas students, these sweeping changes couldn’t come soon enough.
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Arkansas spends half our state’s budget on education, but only 35% of third graders can read at grade level. Families are trapped in failing school districts, but parental choice programs are essentially nonexistent. Like most states, we’re dealing with a teacher shortage. It doesn’t help that Arkansas currently offers some of the lowest teacher pay in the country.
Arkansas LEARNS is a comprehensive plan to tackle all these problems by meeting teachers’ needs, respecting parents’ rights, and, most importantly, delivering the quality education our kids deserve.
This bill starts by immediately offering incentives to attract and retain the best teachers in the country. We will raise our starting teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000 and give EVERY teacher a raise. Instead of being 48th in the nation for starting teacher pay, Arkansas will now be top five. We know teachers have a profound impact on student learning, which is why we are investing in recruiting and retaining the best.
But we can’t forget about children’s first and most important teachers, their parents. We both have kids, and we refuse to be sidelined in their education.
That starts by giving parents the choice to send their children to the school that best meets their needs, no matter where they live, and no matter their income. We’re rolling out new Education Freedom Accounts to allow families to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate, whether it be public, private, parochial, or homeschool.
To the critics who say this will harm public schools: research shows that the opposite is true. When we empower parents to customize their child’s education, traditional public schools rise to the challenge and compete. If the local school district is the best option – which it will remain for most families – it won’t lose any kids.
We’ll also respect parents’ right to protect their kids from inappropriate topics. That means banning left-wing political indoctrination and keeping obscene material away from young children.
Most importantly, this legislation ensures that every Arkansas student graduates with the education and training they need to succeed in life.
We know that reading by 3rd grade is imperative for a child’s success – up to this moment a child is learning to read and beyond this a student is reading to learn. Seventy percent of those incarcerated in Arkansas can’t read. We cannot allow this to continue. We’ll deploy 120 reading coaches across our state and provide $500 tutoring grants to students who still struggle and ensure students and teachers have the resources needed to address this issue.
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Once students get to high school, they need to prepare to enter the workforce right after graduation. That’s why we’re launching a dual diploma program in all Arkansas high schools, partnering with local employers to give students a pathway to a job, right in their community.
And one of the best parts of Arkansas LEARNS – we won’t have to raise taxes one bit to pay for it. It will be funded using a mix of federal grants and preexisting state money. In fact, Arkansas is still on track for another tax cut this year.
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The problems facing our schools need bold, new, conservative solutions. Luckily, America has a whole class of bold, new, conservative governors ready to get to work.
This administration is leading the way on conservative education reform, creating a new model for a nation dealing with the fallout from misguided left-wing schemes to take over our schools. Arkansas LEARNS will be a blueprint for the entire country and we’re ready to pass it into law.
Jacob Oliva is secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education and commissioner of the department’s division of elementary and secondary education.