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LEARNS Act discussed by local solons

Differing opinions on future of lawsuits, implementation of act by Maylon Rice | March 15, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

As always on most "controversial" acts this time of year passed by the Arkansas Legislature -- supporters of the bill are quick to reply, the critics, not so quick to respond for comments and observations.

This week, the crown jewel of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' first term in office, the LEARNS Act, a 146-page omnibus bill for the state's education template was passed on a legislative fast-track with a few amendments and signed into law.

There was considerable push back, even from her own party, but the bill was guided through with deliberate speed, a notable legislative agility and little public examination or debate from critics.

And, as always, local legislators were at times a little reluctant to reply back to column writers and others in the media for comment.

Here are a few local politicians who supplied a short, requested statement on the act.

State Senator Tyler Dees of Siloam Springs: "... Like with any bill, the LEARNS Act is not perfect but moves us in a great direction and is an attempt to find solutions.

"I voted yes because this bill increases teacher pay, removes woke ideology, puts student success at the forefront and empowers parents. Students shouldn't be forced to learn 'what' to think but rather 'how' to think.

"Parents as are the best advocates for their children in most cases, and we can't force fit a one-size fits all education model for all kids.

"Allowing parents to make the correct education choices for their family empowers parents and should create the best atmosphere for a child's education journey."

And here is another view from State Rep. Kendra Moore of Lincoln:

"I am excited about the investment and focus Governor Sanders has dedicated to education in Arkansas. Every educator I know has a passion and devotion for the success of their students. Given the proper resources will help educators meet those goals!

"The success of our students will enable the success of our cities and state. The LEARNS bill is a big piece of legislation, that is why the rules promulgation process will be an integral part of ensuring the tactics are execution-able to the overall strategy for successful implementation. I am honored to work beside a team of people that will work hard to ensure that success!"

State Rep. Charlene Fite of Van Buren, the assistant speaker pro tempore of the House, who represents part of western Washington County:

"In the Old Testament, Moses sent spies into the Promised Land. Some came back saying, 'There are giants!' But Caleb and Joshua reported a land flowing with milk and honey, saying 'We can do it.'

"The people listened to the bad report and wandered in the wilderness for 40 more years. Let's not do that. I'm tired of being 48th in Education.

"Yes, there are giants. But we can do this.

"This is the largest overhaul of education in our state's history. We have a chance to move our state to the top in teachers' salaries, maternity leave for school staff, literacy, early childhood, and career preparation.

"We are only at the beginning of this process. Over the next few months, school personnel will join with the Department of Education and legislators to promulgate rules to flesh out the broad framework of the LEARNS act.

"Your local teachers and administrators will have input. This is where the real work will happen. This is where the giants will be overcome, and our state will enter the promised land of a great education for all our children."

And I've asked for an opposite view of those voting "No" on the LEARNS Act from State Senators Bryan King of Green Forest and Gregg Leding of Fayetteville and also state Rep. David Whitaker of Fayetteville, who represents Farmington, but have not received a response in time for this deadline.

If those responses come back to me, they will certainly be included.

The LEARNS Act will be undergoing "rule" changes for its implementation and should still be on the hearts and minds of all Arkansans concerned about the state's public educational system.

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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