Gov. Sanders addresses concerns over LEARNS Act in town hall

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 11:22 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered questions during a town hall meeting in Jonesboro Monday about the controversial LEARNS Act.

Sanders signed the bill into law in March which creates a new school voucher program and increases teacher pay.

Protesters gathered at the door of the Simpson Theater on the A-State campus, holding signs and chanting the “LEARNS Act has to go.”

The governor, who spoke with Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, said she “was happy to pass legislation that will transform education in Arkansas.”

Oliva said his department met with school leaders after the law was signed to address concerns early on.

One question raised was about preparing students for the workforce.

Sanders said she was concerned there was too much focus on what students knew, not what they were capable of, so she wanted to address putting students on paths to get into workforces directly.

She said she is also providing more resources to address literacy scores in the state and expects scores to go up as soon as next year.

Representatives from several school districts were in attendance, including those from the Brookland School District who had multiple concerns.

Brookland board member Dana Johnson questioned teacher pay.

“A teacher who maybe has a master’s degree and has been teaching for 20 years or more is now going to make the same salary--$2,000 more--than someone coming right out of college,” she said.

Superintendent Brett Bunch had concerns about the district’s growth. The Brookland School District is one of the fastest-growing districts in the state.

“We have to build a new building which currently, it’s at about $425 a square foot to build, so how are you going to address both?“ Bunch asked.

Sanders replied there was a plan to address both issues.

“We have given more allocation for facilities funding and done that for the next couple of years so that there is potentially more money available because of that issue that so many schools are running into,” she said.

Sanders also said the state would help pay those teachers longer than a year.

“I’m elated to hear that that fund is going to continue year after year, I think that’s important to a lot of the school districts,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her short-term concern was answered, but her question about veteran teachers was still unanswered.

“There are still some questions on what we can do and where we can get funding to be able to recognize teachers who have been in the classroom for 15, 20, 25 years,” she said.