LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The LEARNS Act proposed by Governor Sarah Sanders made its way through the House Education Committee Wednesday, with one final stop before heading to her desk for signature.
The bill, despite controversy from Democrats and many educators across Arkansas, has seen overwhelming support from Republicans in the state legislature.
Brit McKenzie (R-District 7) was one of the several legislators to vote in favor of the bill Wednesday.
“The first people I thought of were my kids,” McKenzie said.
Democrats, like Denise Garner (D-District 20) opposed the bill, saying research proves the bill would not be a good idea for Arkansas, and she believes legislators supporting it have not done enough research.
“I just hope my oncologist husband takes research more into consideration than the folks that are around here,” Garner said.
The main talking points seem to revolve around vouchers, teacher pay, and repealing the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.
“It’s going to empower parents,” McKenzie said. “It is going to encourage student outcomes. It is going to completely revolutionize the way we think about education in the state of Arkansas.”
Garner noted that there are parts of the bill she agrees with, but based on her own thoughts and talking with people in her district, there are elements she believes would be hurtful for schools.
“There’s a whole lot of things I love about the bill and would have voted for individually, but I cannot vote for the voucher part of the bill,” Garner said.
The vouchers would fund certain students in underprivileged, struggling districts to go to private or charter schools.
“Our research shows the vouchers don’t work,” Garner said.
McKenzie said it is about empowering parents.
“I want to think about a world that provides sound educational policy, affords them opportunities and doesn’t limit them by a zip code,” he said.
As the bill heads to the House floor Thursday, Garner said she is expecting to see continued support from Republicans, though she is hoping to see accountability if it passes, and it run into issues with the bill once it becomes law.
“My hope is that we can all work together in a more collaborative way to make sure we take care of some of those issues,” Garner said. “I heard on the floor today that they’re willing to do that and I’m going to try to keep them to their word.”