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After days of public testimony, the House Education Committee approves the Arkansas LEARNS Act



Little Rock, Arkansas – The Governor Sarah Sanders-proposed LEARNS Act completed its final stop before reaching her desk for signature on Wednesday after passing through the House Education Committee.

Despite opposition from Democrats and a large number of educators in Arkansas, the plan has received resoundingly strong support from Republicans in the state legislature.

On Wednesday, a number of lawmakers, including Brit McKenzie (R-District 7), voted in favor of the measure.

“The first people I thought of were my kids,” McKenzie said.

Democrats opposed the bill, including Denise Garner (D-District 20), who claimed that the studies supporting it did not go far enough to show that it would be a good idea for Arkansas.

“I just hope my oncologist husband takes research more into consideration than the folks that are around here,” Garner said.

Vouchers, teacher compensation, and the repeal of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act appear to be the primary discussion themes.

“It’s going to empower parents,” McKenzie said. “It is going to encourage student outcomes. It is going to completely revolutionize the way we think about education in the state of Arkansas.”

Garner added that while she supports some aspects of the measure, she also believes that others would harm schools. This is based on her personal opinions and conversations with residents in her area.

“There’s a whole lot of things I love about the bill and would have voted for individually, but I cannot vote for the voucher part of the bill,” Garner said.

Some students in disadvantaged, struggling districts would receive funding through vouchers to attend private or charter schools.

“Our research shows the vouchers don’t work,” Garner said.

It’s about empowering parents, according to McKenzie. “I want to think about a world that provides sound educational policy, affords them opportunities, and doesn’t limit them by a zip code,” he said.

On Thursday, the bill will be debated on the House floor. Garner said she anticipates sustained Republican support, but she hopes for accountability should it pass and encounter problems after becoming law. “My hope is that we can all work together in a more collaborative way to make sure we take care of some of those issues,” Garner said. “I heard on the floor today that they’re willing to do that and I’m going to try to keep them to their word.”