Arkansas is positioned to become a national symbol of educational freedom. This moment is an opportunity to modernize learning, allowing parents the power to choose and customize the education that’s best for their children.
In February, Gov Sarah Huckabee Sanders introduced the LEARNS Act, making good on her promise to give parents more educational power and freedom. This places Arkansas as a leader in transforming education from a top-down, one-size-fits-all system to a bottom-up approach that respects the dignity and unique gifts of every child.
As the bill continues to advance through the Arkansas legislature, there are a few specific components worth highlighting and celebrating:
- The creation of the Children’s Educational Freedom Account Program, a statewide ESA that would empower families with decision-making over their children’s education funding. By 2025, families would be able to access nearly $6,614 per K-12 student statewide, which may be used for w educational expenses, such as textbooks, speech or occupational therapy, tutoring and more. Moving direct resources and decision-making power into the hands of Arkansas families would allow every child to find the educational environment that best meets their needs.
- The continued prioritization of opening up public school access across the state, by eliminating a current requirement that districts cannot allow more than 3% of their students to transfer. This is an important step toward ending residential assignment of public schools, an antiquated practice which locks children into schools based on zip code and income. Removing this requirement creates significantly more opportunities for families to seek new and better options for their children.
- The creation of a Transportation Modernization Grant would move decision-making to public schools, childcare providers, cities, towns and other entities to make all educational options more accessible. Every day, children across the nation are denied access to public education that works for them simply because they do not live in the right neighborhoods. This grant program will help families access the schools of their desired choice, no matter where they live.
The transformational changes outlined in this legislation reflect what parents want nationwide — to shift the power in education into the hands of families. And Arkansas’ parents are no different.
“Every child in Arkansas has value and every child has a purpose,” said Jody Harris of Fayetteville, AR, mother of four. “We are among a group of many parents who feel empowered that this bill will lift students out of situations where their learning needs remain unmet. A parent is the best advocate for their child. It’s our job to identify an education path. This is to ensure students have success and fulfill their purpose. Public school education works well for many but we have to remember that education is not one-size-fits-all. This is an opportunity to make a measurable difference in education in our state.”
“It’s time we value each individual child, and not the system. Parents need more options to put their child in a school that will fit his or her needs,” said Kara Harward of Bentonville, AR, mother of three. “This education overhaul is exactly what Arkansas needs to build back up our schools and offer a quality education that will help all Arkansan students succeed and become career ready.”
“Everything, and I mean everything starts with education,” said Heather Turchi of Little Rock, AR, mother of two. “We all have different ideas on what that should look like, but we can ALL agree on is that our system is broken, and we need change. This bill provides the change that we need for our children to thrive and succeed.”
It’s clear that the Arkansas legislature and Gov. Huckabee Sanders are listening to the voices of families in every corner of the state, and their desire for innovative, bottom-up solutions. The passage of the LEARNS Act will make Arkansas the fourth state in the nation to advance universal ESA legislation, improving learning for students, teachers and families. We urge other states should follow their lead, so that American education can better evolve to meet the needs of today’s kids and families.