What is it? School choice
With school choice debates in states across the country, author Neal McCluskey helps us answer important questions like “what is it” and “why is it controversial?”
Legislation on school choice passed the Republican Arkansas Legislature Tuesday afternoon and will go to Governor Sarah Sanders’ office for her signature.
Senate Bill 294, also known as “Arkansas LEARNS”, passed 26-8, marking the final win for school choice. Arkansas is the last of the Republican-led states to follow in the footsteps of Arizona, which became the first state to pass universal education scholarship bills to all 1.1 million of its K-12 students in 2022.
“A HISTORIC WIN for parents, teachers and students that will define the educational model for the nation. I’m ready to sign it into law tomorrow and end the failed status quo,” Sanders tweeted. “Every child will soon have access to a quality education and a path to a well-paid job and a better life here in Arkansas.”
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Arkansas legislation will expand school choice and includes a plan for the state to adopt universal electives by the 2025-2026 school year. The bill will progressively provide vouchers through “Education Freedom Accounts,” which are equal to 90% of the funding allocated per student to each public school district in the previous year.
Some groups of students are eligible for the voucher for the 2023-2024 school year, including students with a disability; being homeless; have a parent who is active in the military; attended an F-rated school in the previous school year; or going to kindergarten for the first time.
“This is not us versus them, red versus blue, teachers versus the legislature,” Republican Senator Breanne Davis said during the Senate session. “Here we all work together and strive for the success of our children.”
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Sanders’ reform bill is the latest victory for school choice among Republican-led states. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The bill also aims to remove critical race theory from classrooms, fund 120 new student literacy coaches, and raise teacher base salaries from $36,000 to $50,000 — the fourth highest for teachers in the US.
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The Sanders School Choice Act also raises the minimum salary for teachers in Arkansas. (The associated press)
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Arkansas LEARNS also prohibits instruction on topics related to sexually explicit materials, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, gender identity, and sexual orientation in classrooms prior to fifth grade. The legislation also requires students to complete 75 hours of community service to receive their diploma.
The bill will now go to the governor’s office to be signed into law.
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Matt Leach is a Fox Digital Originals reporter from Tampa, FL.