ICYMI: Monroe County Argus: LEARNS legislation provides huge opportunities

Monroe County Argus published, “LEARNS legislation provides huge opportunities,” an editorial in support of Arkansas LEARNS. 

“Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed Senate Bill 294, commonly known as the Learns Bill, last week. By any measure, this is a drastic and comprehensive overhaul of our state’s education system. While the legislation isn’t perfect, we believe it does a lot of good and provides opportunities for improving our schools if we have strong, decisive leadership willing to aggressively utilize these opportunities. 

“Standing out at the top is increasing the starting salary for a teacher to $50000. For Brinkley and Clarendon, this is huge. In the Brinkley and Clarendon School Districts, teachers with either a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree could work their entire careers and never make $50000. College educated professionals with such important responsibilities should have always been paid more.

“This is a game changer for Delta districts that will allow them to compete for the teachers we so desperately need in these classrooms and it will force administrators to put the money where it is needed by maximizing efficiencies. No longer will they be able to create some classified or administrative position to hand out to friends, family, social organization associates, fellow church members or the politically connected. This practice, which they won’t be able to afford anymore, has shortchanged the students and communities around our state for far too long. Now, the money will have to be put into serving students by recruiting good teachers, offering a rich and well-rounded set of programming, and maintaining good facilities in which to learn.

“The legislation also puts the focus on making sure our students can read. Currently, a majority of students in the region’s public school districts are not reading at grade level. That’s unconscionable. It cripples them for life. It has to stop. Social promotion will end under this bill because students must be reading at grade level to advance beyond third grade. Additional funding is included to put over a 100 new literacy coaches in the field to work with the state’s teachers that are struggling to help them teach reading. Parents will have access to funds for supplemental help outside of school for their child. This is a true commitment to make sure students have the one skill they can’t go through life without-the ability to read. 

“Finally, in another boost to our area’s efforts to get the best and brightest while alleviating its struggles to recruit high-quality staff, State Representative Jeremiah Moore worked with the Governor to get the Arkansas Teacher Academy and funding for it included in the bill. This part of the legislation sets up criteria for the state’s colleges and universities to get their teacher education programs included in this academy that will have students committed to teaching a certain portion of their career in high need areas. That’s the Delta and that’s us. In exchange, these students will have their college expenses paid for so that they are not saddled with a crushing level of student loan debt.

“These three provisions alone outweigh any concerns about other provisions that have drawn controversial attention. They help the Delta. They help our districts. And, most importantly, they help our students which benefits everyone in the long run. Learns is the law of the land and our education leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “transform and transmogrify” our schools. But they can’t keep leading the way they always have. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to be innovative and think outside the box while shedding the bureaucratic nonsense that has stifled improvements for students like those found in the Fair Dismissal Act that is thankfully repealed. Now let’s get to work to make sure every student gets the public education they deserve.”

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