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### Conservative Blueprint for National Success: Arkansas’ Education Strategy

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The educational performance of American students is declining.

During my tenure as governor, my primary focus was to reinvigorate students’ progress.

Looking ahead to better serve students, teachers, and families, and to establish a model for the entire nation.

Last year, I issued an executive order prioritizing LEARNS, the most extensive conservative education reform in America. This executive order was later expanded during the initial legislative session, approved by the legislature, and signed into law in March of last year.

School classroom

Arkansas has initiated a significant education reform that safeguards parental rights and benefits both students and teachers. (iStock)

LEARNS, now enforced as state law, has set in motion comprehensive changes throughout the system – from early childhood education to teacher training, classroom practices, workforce readiness, and school safety.

Presently, Arkansas is witnessing early progress, thus paving the way for a conservative success model.

Arkansas is demonstrating—rather than just stating—that teachers are highly valued. A year ago, our starting teacher salaries ranked 48th in the nation, and new mothers were compelled to quickly return to teaching or face unpaid leave. With LEARNS, we elevated the starting teacher salaries from \(36,000 to \)50,000 annually, positioning us in the top five nationally, with the potential for additional merit pay up to $10,000.

Moreover, LEARNS introduced a 12-week paid maternity leave for teachers. In the predominantly female field of education, it took until 2023 for teachers to secure this fundamental benefit. This not only supports individual employees but also strengthens efforts to attract, retain, and acknowledge our devoted teaching workforce.

Arkansas is providing enhanced support to students to help them realize their full potential—both academically and in life.

Previously, students struggling with reading and basic math did not always receive the necessary interventions. Now, struggling students will have access to personalized support plans, their families can utilize funded tutoring services, and teachers can benefit from literacy coaching. We have recruited and deployed 125 literacy coaches to schools across the state.

Furthermore, the state is preparing students for post-high school success. Prior to LEARNS, high school seniors could graduate early upon meeting requirements, lacking opportunities for career exploration and training.

Now, students must complete volunteer hours to graduate, enabling them to become more informed, engaged citizens. Additionally, every district will offer high-wage, high-growth career pathways starting next fall. We have introduced a dual-degree diploma program to assist students in securing well-paying jobs immediately after graduation, within their communities.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has spearheaded a statewide reform initiative aimed at fortifying the educational system. (Al Drago/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Arkansas is shifting its focus concerning early childhood education. We recognize the long-term benefits that early childhood education can offer in a student’s academic journey, and parents who seek this option for their child should have access to quality education, not just mere availability.

With LEARNS, local leaders across the state are formulating regional plans to address accessibility in all corners of our state, while also raising the standards for providers to ensure that every child receives a quality education.

We respect parents’ rights to shield their children from inappropriate subjects by prohibiting left-wing political indoctrination and safeguarding young children from obscene materials.

Arkansas has broadened the spectrum of quality K-12 education options for families, be it public, private, parochial, or homeschooling. Previously, a family’s income dictated their choice of school for their child.

Now, we have removed a longstanding cap on charter schools, and over 5,000 families have already enrolled in their preferred school through our Education Freedom Accounts (EFA) program. Half of the students in the EFA program have learning disabilities.

“The EFA program enabled us to enroll our daughter with learning disabilities in a private school where she receives the necessary support,” said Heather Bline, a beneficiary of the EFA program. “There are many aspects of our lives that we cannot control, but having the freedom to choose our child’s school makes a significant difference.”

And this is just the beginning of the implementation process. There is more to come, and Arkansas will persist in translating policy into action in collaboration with educators, parents, administrators, and stakeholders statewide.

We are not merely discussing what should be done for children; we are actively engaged in the effort. Consequently, we are one step closer to ensuring that every child in Arkansas has access to quality education, lucrative employment, and a brighter future right here in Arkansas.