Don’t let Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ LEARNS Act, which was signed into law March 8, fool you with its $50,000 minimum salary for all teachers —- the bill is still a disaster for Arkansas’ racial and political climate.
Let’s start with its premise: LEARNS stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and school safety.
The act is meant to overhaul the Arkansas education system by implementing a voucher program to provide parents with more school choice, drastically increasing teacher salaries and improving state literacy requirements, according to KARK.com.
Now let’s work our way down to the destruction it will cause all schools: private, public and charter.
The executive order will ban the teaching of critical race theory, even going as far as to call it “indoctrination.”
The bill says, “The secretary shall ensure that no public employee or public school student shall be required to attend trainings or orientations based on prohibited indoctrination or Critical Race Theory.”
CRT changed the educational landscape. It presented an undeniable truth about racism and how it’s woven into the fabric of America. It recognizes systemic inequalities and provides a voice for Black students, who have long been shielded from the academic sphere.
Critics of the bill also argue that it could potentially and accidentally create more school segregation.
Hundreds of Little Rock Central High students performed a walkout to protest the bill Feb. 28, according to ualrpublicradio.org.
The LEARNS bill will distribute “education freedom accounts,” which provide families with “up to 90% of the annual per-student public school funding rate for use on allowable education expenses, like private school tuition and homeschool costs.”
During their protest, the Central High students noted the parallels between this and the 1957 desegregation crisis. The Little Rock School board “created attendance zones and allowed mainly white high schoolers to transfer to schools of their choice.”
Putting more money into private and charter schools will not improve public education. Even several Republicans like Jim Wooten have expressed their concerns about “the impact diverting public money to private schools could have,” according to apnews.com.
The LEARNS Act also prohibits discussion of gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual reproduction in the classroom before fifth grade. It is dystopian and arguably against free speech to hide topics like these from students, which often become prevalent before the fifth grade.
The bill will repeal the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, which requires a teacher to receive written notice of any nonrenewal, suspension or termination. Then, that teacher can either accept and resign or request a hearing in front of the school board.
Reversing an act like this will create more dysfunction within schools and lessen transparency for teachers.
Senator Reginald Murdock (D), who represents District 9, said it best: “we’ve never put this many important topics into one piece of legislation and voted on it with one vote.”
Sanders’ LEARNS Act has a surprising number of redeemable qualities, such as offering upward of $10,000 in bonuses to teachers who commit to teaching in areas of high need. However, the aforementioned issues are potentially poisonous for schools of every background.
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