LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Just a few weeks out of the legislative session ending and a few months ahead of a new school year starting, education leaders are running against the clock to put some of the new LEARNS Act in place.
“We are starting right away,” Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva said.
A massive education reform package that has now become law requires quite a bit of work to make it a reality. Oliva said this next phase of implementation does not happen without the public.
“We made a commitment to do that in a clear and transparent manner,” he said.
This is done through work groups, made up of Arkansans, to help give ideas and feedback for the rule-implementing process.
The groups are based on parts of education in the LEARNS Act that will be affected. The groups are:
- School Safety
- Early Learning
- Parental Empowerment
- Teaching and Learning
- Educator Workforce
- Career Readiness
Oliva said the Department of Education received more than 1,200 applications.
“That ranged everywhere from college presidents, school superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents,” he said.
Oliva noted that the intent is to have people from all four corners of the state represented in groups, as well as people from all levels of education. Each group- made up of 10 or so people- is overseen by an ADE staff member.
The secretary also said if a person does not make the work group, the department plans to still keep them engaged throughout the process. The plan is to post drafts of rules online for people to give feedback and respond to before they are officially signed off on.
Many of the initiatives in LEARNS Act do not have a due date for rules until July of 2024, but some things will go into place at the start of the upcoming school year, like the Education Freedom Accounts (which many have referred to as ‘vouchers’).
Oliva said the phased-in approach to these scholarships will start this summer.
“We want to make sure parents have access to these choice opportunities right away, and be in time for the next school year,” he said. “Some of the scholarship rules and choice program opportunities, we are going to get it up and running and take those rules to our state board pretty quickly.”
Another priority before the new school year is the teacher pay raises, which falls under the ‘Educator Workforce’ group.
“The intention is that teachers are going to see at least a $2,000 raise or a base minimum salary of $50,000 starting this next fiscal year, which for us, is July 1,” Oliva said.
Oliva also noted that these next few months his focus is also making sure schools understand the finances behind it. The state legislature has finalized the education budget, and Oliva said all of the money needed to implement the teacher salaries are coming from a separate category in the state budget.
Oliva promised he would visit districts and meet with superintendents to go over these salary changes before they go into effect.
He has already visited with several superintendents so far, he said.
He said many districts have already taken to their local school board proposed salary schedules for next year.
“As we have walked through the process and explained how all of this is going to come together, we have put some minds at ease,” Oliva said. “The school districts have the number they need to figure out how they are going to develop and implement that salary schedule.”
Oliva also said many districts have already taken to their local school board proposed salary schedules for next year.
Planning professional development will also be a priority this summer, Oliva noted, as well as implementing new English, Fine Arts and Math standards.
“We are in the process of building out a new assessment system and reviewing our accountability system,” he added.
For any information regarding LEARNS Act, work groups, or the rules process, click here.