The LEARNS Act, the Governors' first legislative priority, is unfortunately a bill that could do more harm than good. Despite being 145 pages long, the bill lacks focus on proven solutions and instead takes aim at implementing a voucher program that could have disastrous outcomes.
The passage of this bill began with a 10-hour hearing in which Rep. Brian Evans allowed all 94 members of the public who wished to speak to do so. However, despite these voices of dissent, updated versions were approved by both the House Education Committee and then the House of Representatives on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
The LEARNS Act contains a provision that would implement a controversial universal school voucher program by 2025. In theory, school vouchers are meant to increase competition between schools and help low-income families afford private educations, but the evidence doesn't support it. There is no unbiased data proving the success of school voucher programs. In fact, Arizona’s voucher program led to declines in student test scores and increased segregation among students from different socio-economic backgrounds; something many fear could happen in Arkansas if this bill passes into law.
The LEARNS Act could have some benefits for students but unfortunately those very same benefits come with a hefty price tag that most Arkansas taxpayers cannot afford. It is now up to lawmakers to ensure that they are making decisions based on facts and not political agendas. The future of our children’s education depends on it.
And students recognize that. On Friday, hundreds of Little Rock Central High School students took decisive action in response to the Arkansas LEARNS bill nearing its final approval. The students organized a walkout, leaving their classrooms to express their dismay with the proposed legislation. It was a powerful display of collective action by the student body that sent a clear message that they would not accept this bill without a fight.
Despite recognizing that the bill isn't perfect by their own standards, proponents have insisted that issues associated with the bill can be addressed after it passes. This is an incredibly shortsighted view, as there are several major problems with the act that require attention before any implementation begins.
While the LEARNS Act may be well intentioned in its pursuit of educational reform in Arkansas, it simply doesn’t take into account the critical perspective of Arkansas educators and it will not ensure that our state’s students get a fair shot at success.