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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveils universal school choice proposal

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has unveiled a phased-in plan, called Arkansas LEARNS, for statewide universal school choice by 2026. File photo by Al Drago/UPI
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has unveiled a phased-in plan, called Arkansas LEARNS, for statewide universal school choice by 2026. File photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has unveiled a phased-in plan for statewide universal school choice by 2026.

The Republican governor announced the Arkansas LEARNS initiative -- which stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety -- at the Arkansas State Capitol on Wednesday, saying the proposal will give parents a greater role in education, raise teacher pay and help students prepare for college or careers.

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"Today, I am delivering on my promise to do the most transformational, bold, conservative education reform in the country," Sanders tweeted.

"We will educate, not indoctrinate our kids, and put students on a path to success, not a lifetime in poverty," Sanders added.

"Our new Education Freedom Account allows parents to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate for their family," Sanders told reporters. "Within three years it will be available to every family in Arkansas."

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The plan would ban limiting the number of charter schools allowed to operate and the number of school choice transfers a student can use. It would require third graders to pass a reading test to progress to the fourth grade and would grant $500 to each child who needed supplemental education services. And it would raise teacher salaries.

"We will put a good teacher in every classroom by increasing their starting salary from one of the lowest to one of the highest in the nation," Sanders added.

The plan calls for "recruiting and retaining good teachers" by raising starting salaries from $36,000 to $50,000, in addition to bonuses for teacher performance. The proposal also bans "critical race theory and indoctrination."

Sanders' initiative comes one day after the governor gave the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, during which she announced plans to reveal her education reform proposal.

"Parents are the foundation of a child's success. My plan gives parents a greater role in education, including the right to choose the school that's best for their child -- whether it is public, private or parochial," Sanders said. "We will transform education, unleash opportunity for our people and set the model for America."

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