Governor Sarah Sanders unveiled the broad strokes of her long anticipated education package on Wednesday in the State Capitol.
Rather than putting forward a host of proposals through a series of bills, the Sanders administration is cramming everything into an omnibus package, potentially backing conflicted lawmakers into a corner. Sanders said the Bureau of Legislative Research was crafting the bill, and she hoped it would be filed soon.
She said the package is expected to cost $300 million in its first year, with $150 million in new spending.
As expected, the policy ranges from the good, to the bad, to the ugly:
*Sanders said the plan raises Arkansas’s almost-worst-in-the-nation starting minimum salary for teachers from $36,000 to $50,000. It would move Arkansas from 48th in starting pay to the top five, Sanders said. That’s more than the $46,000 Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed last year and significantly more than the $40,000 lawmakers proposed during the adequacy process. Props to state Democrats for already filing the RAISE Act, which put forward the $50,000 number and would have been used to embarrass Sanders and Co. if they’d presented something short of it.
*The bill would also provide complete student loan forgiveness for teachers willing to work “in the areas of highest need.” No indication of how those areas would be determined or what sort of commitment would be required.
*Some 120 reading coaches would be deployed to schools that need them most.
*Pre-K will be expanded maybe? Sanders was very vague on this point.
The plan will significantly expand the redistribution of school funding away from public schools. This vouchers-by-another-name scheme, which Sanders is calling Education Freedom Accounts, would provide families up to 90% of the state’s per-pupil foundation funding amount, which is around $7,300 this year, to use for home schooling or at a private school, according to Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, who stressed that the precise details were still under negotiation. Sanders said the program would initially target the”most at-risk” children, but would expand to all children within three years.
Up to $10,000 would be available in merit pay to teachers. This is a Walton and Republican-favored tact with decidedly mixed results. Also, the devil will be in the details here.
Sanders said the language in her executive order banning “indoctrination” and critical race theory” would be mirrored in the bill. Asked if it would include language similar to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation or gender in schools, Sanders said it would.
Much more to come on this.