The Saline Courier Weekend

Governor reveals details of her education package


LITTLE ROCK – Backed by a host of legislator­s, the governor revealed details of her education package. The proposed changes in public school funding would be numerous and far reaching.

They include large increases in teacher pay and the expansion of literacy programs for young children.

A point of focus is the governor’s proposal to greatly expand school choice. Parents would be more able to afford private or parochial schools for their children, with subsidies from the state to help pay for tuition.

The governor’s proposal would allow parents to create Education Freedom Accounts, which they could use to pay for tuition at private or parochial schools. The accounts would receive an amount equal to 90 percent of state per pupil expenditur­es. This year, foundation funding is $7,413 per pupil.

The state Education Secretary said that details are being finalized, but key legislator­s said that the accounts would be phased in over three years.

In the first year, families would be eligible if their children attended schools rated “F” in school report cards. Also eligible the first year would be children of active duty military parents, children in foster care, children with special needs and children in low-income families would be eligible.

In the second year, children would become eligible if they attended a “D” rated school. In the third year, all children would be eligible.

The education package includes a repeal of the cap on the number of open enrollment charter schools allowed in Arkansas.

The cap is now at 34 charters. There are 22 open enrollment charters, although several of those operate multiple campuses. Under current law, when the number of charters increases to within two of the cap, the cap automatica­lly increases by five.

The governor’s plan would repeal limits on transfers.

High schools would offer career education for students who want to enter the work force after graduation, rather than going to college.

Teacher salaries in Arkansas would jump from 48th to fourth in the country, under the governor’s plan. Now, the minimum teacher salary is $36,000 a year and it would go to $50,000. There are more than 15,000 teachers who now earn more than $36,000 but less than $50,000, and they would get raises to bring them up to the minimum.

The proposals include hiring 120 literacy coaches to work throughout the state. Students in kindergart­en through the third grade who struggle with learning to read would qualify for a $500 stipend to pay for a tutor.

Students would have to read at a third grade level before advancing to the fourth grade, under the governor’s plan. According to standardiz­ed assessment­s, only 35 percent of third graders in Arkansas can read at grade level.

Good teachers could get a bonus of $10,000 under the governor’s plan, and they could get 12 weeks of maternity leave. The plan would repeal the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.

The package includes school safety measures. The governor mentioned crisis response training and mental health awareness training.

Under the governor’s plan, students would have to complete 75 hours of community service in order to graduate.

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