Rep. Brooks, Sen. Chesterfield discuss LEARNS bill, changes to be made

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,704 views 

Rep. Keith Brooks, R-Little Rock, and Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.

Two vice-chairs of the education committees in the House and Senate say there are changes to be made to Gov. Sarah Sanders’ LEARNS bill, but those changes are unlikely to alter votes in the state legislature.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Capitol View, Rep. Keith Brooks, R-Little Rock, vice-chair of the House Education Committee and the primary House sponsor of SB294, the omnibus education bill, said there is an amendment being added to the measure before it is considered in his chamber.

The amendment was added Friday afternoon. It offers technical corrections and clean-up language brought up in Senate testimony last week. It also outlines some steps of due process for teachers who may be dismissed; speaks to a requirement for teacher salary schedules; and outlines how auditing for potential misuse of public school money being used for private or homeschooling purposes will work.

Brooks said these changes will be incorporated in the bill before it runs next week in the House Education Committee.

“One area is due process, ensuring that teachers know there are still strong opportunities to defend themselves should that be necessary,” Brooks said in the Capitol View interview. “Also, looking at the teacher salary schedule. That’s something we’ve gotten a lot of feedback on.”

A former teacher, Sen. Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, is the vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee, which held a day-long hearing last Wednesday to consider the LEARNS proposal. She voted against it in committee and on the floor, and said the changes were unlikely to shift her vote.

“This [Arkansas] is a right-to-work state. Senator Hester pointed out to me that they [teachers] will be treated like everybody else in a right-to-work state, which means a right to be fired when we feel like it,” she said.

The LEARNS plan provides:

  • A minimum starting teacher salary of $50,000. That will take Arkansas from the bottom 10 to the top 5 in the country.
  • Pay raises to $50,000 for those teachers making less than that amount.
  • The potential for $10,000 bonuses for teachers who excel.
  • Forgiveness for student loan debt for teachers who locate in high-need areas of Arkansas.
  • A repeal of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.
  • 120 literacy coaches who would be deployed across Arkansas to help kids improve their reading success.
  • Education freedom accounts, which will allow public school funds to be used for private and parochial schools, charter schools, and home schooling.
  • Freedom accounts will be phased in over three years starting with “at-risk families first” and would eventually be universal to all students in Arkansas.

Brooks and Chesterfield discussed other aspects of the bill, including its price tag of $297.5 million in Year 1. Watch their full interview in the video below.