ICYMI: OPINION | SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Arkansas Education Plan is Conservative Blueprint for Nationwide Success

Fox News published Arkansas Education Plan is Conservative Blueprint for Nationwide Success, an op-ed by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Arkansas’ conservative education reform:

America’s students are falling behind. 

As Governor, it was my priority to get kids back on track. 

Arkansas has forged our own path forward to better serve students, teachers, and families and become a blueprint for the nation. 

Last year, in one of my first acts as Governor, I signed an executive order to prioritize LEARNS, the biggest, most far-reaching, conservative education reform in America. That executive order was then expanded during our first legislative session, passed by the legislature, and I signed it into law last March. 

LEARNS, now state law, put into motion sweeping changes to improve every aspect of our education system–from early childhood education, to teacher training, to classroom practice, to workforce readiness, to school safety. 

Today, Arkansas is observing early gains, and in turn, drafting a conservative blueprint for success. 

Arkansas is showing–not just telling–teachers they are valuable. A year ago, our starting teacher salaries ranked 48th in the nation, and new mothers had to hurry back in the classroom or go unpaid. With LEARNS, we raised starting teacher salaries from $36,000 to $50,000 a year, competing in the top five salaries nationally with additional merit pay up to $10,000. 

In addition, LEARNS created 12-week paid maternity leave for teachers. In the woman-dominated field of education, it took until 2023 for teachers to earn this basic benefit. This not only supports the individual employees but bolsters efforts to recruit, retain, and reward our dedicated teaching workforce. 

Arkansas is offering students more support to achieve their full potential–in school and in life. 

Before, kids who struggled to read and do basic math didn’t always get the interventions they needed. Now, struggling students will receive a tailored support plan, their families can access funded tutoring services, and teachers have access to science of reading coaches. We’ve hired and deployed 125 literacy coaches to schools around the state. 

Further, the state is preparing students to succeed after high school. Before LEARNS, high school seniors could cut out early if they had finished their graduation requirements, and they lacked opportunities for career exploration and training. Now, students complete volunteer hours in order to graduate, enabling them to become more informed, engaged citizens, and every district will offer high wage-high growth career pathways starting next fall. We’ve launched a dual-degree diploma program to help students get a high-paying job, right after they graduate, right in their community. 

Arkansas is shifting the focus when it comes to early childhood education. We know the long-term value that early childhood education can have in a student’s academic success, and parents who want that option for their child should have it. But it’s no longer just about access, it’s also about quality. With LEARNS, local captains across the state are building regional plans to address access in every corner of our state, and we are raising the bar on what is expected of these providers to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. 

We’re respecting parents’ right to protect their kids from inappropriate topics by banning left-wing political indoctrination and keeping obscene material away from young children. 

Arkansas has also expanded quality K-12 education options for families, whether it be public, private, parochial, or homeschool. Before, a family’s income determined their ability to choose the best school for their child. Now, we’ve eliminated a long-standing cap on charter schools and more than 5,000 families have already enrolled in a school of their choice through our Education Freedom Accounts (EFA). Half of those students enrolled in the EFA program have a learning disability. 

“The EFA program allowed us to utilize a smaller environment where our daughter gets the help she needs,” said Heather Bline, who used the EFA program to enroll her adopted daughter with a learning disability in a private school. “There’s so much that we can’t control about our lives and our children’s lives. Having the freedom to choose where you want your child to attend school makes a huge difference.” 

And all of this is just one year into implementation. There’s more to come, and Arkansas will continue to translate policy into practice in collaboration with educators, parents, administrators, and stakeholders across the state. 

We aren’t talking about what should be done for kids; we’re doing the work. As a result, we are one step closer to ensuring every Arkansas child has access to a quality education, a good-paying job, and a better life—right here, in Arkansas.