LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas House Education Committee took up Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ omnibus education reform bill Tuesday.
Republicans and the two Democrats in the committee asked many detailed questions over a three-and-a-half-hour span. Many questions involved the funding aspect of Arkansas LEARNS.
Some lawmakers expressed fear this bill could have negative effects on smaller school districts that cannot use additional funds the state cannot provide to pay for teacher merit bonuses or some staff raises.
State Rep. Vivian Flowers said she was pleased with “aggressive” questioning from both parties.
“It’s our job to vet and flesh out legislation,” Flowers said. “Unfortunately, we’ve only had a few days to do it.”
The bill would create a $50,000 minimum starting salary for teachers, which sponsor State Rep. Keith Brooks said would be amongst the top in the country after a cost-of-living adjustment. It would also create early learning programs and Education Freedom Accounts, which would bring school choice to the state.
Opponents have said school choice has not worked in other states, and others like Idaho recently rejected similar proposals for that reason.
Brooks and Education Secretary Dr. Jacob Oliva answered questions from lawmakers and heard public comments well into the afternoon. Brooks said he anticipated much of the questioning.
“We’ve been very specific in making sure the dollars are there,” Brooks said. “The governor’s proposed a very bold plan, but we want to ensure the dollars are there and that we can do it with fidelity to support our kids.”
Brooks said he expects this to pass Wednesday, and next week could possibly be when Sanders signs it into law. It will go back to the Senate side after an amendment was added.
“The opportunity to be involved in impacting generational change for the education needs in the state of Arkansas is something I’m more than humbled to be a part of,” Brooks said.