State Policy Network
The School Choice Revolution Rolls On: Arkansas Passes the LEARNS Act

On March 8, 2023, Arkansas passed a universal school choice bill that will give all children, regardless of where they live or how much money their family makes, the opportunity to access to a quality education. The legislation, called the Arkansas LEARNS Act, will create an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that gives students and their parents access to funds to pay for education-related materials.

Arkansas now joins Arizona, Iowa, West Virginia, and Utah as states with “universal” Education Savings Account-style programs, which means all students in the state can access the program.

Arkansas LEARNS Act will give more opportunity to thousands of children

The Arkansas LEARNS Act will give Arkansas families $6,600 per student per year to pay for education expenses, such as textbooks, tutoring, and private school tuition. The program will have income requirements in the first three years, but by 2025 the program will be open to all families. The legislation will also increase the base salary for teachers from $36,000 to $50,000.

With an ESA in hand, parents can select the learning environment that best fits their child’s needs. In Arkansas, like every other state, where you live determines where you go to school. That means many families, especially those with lower incomes, do not have options when it comes to their education. Wealthier families who are dissatisfied with their assigned public school have the resources to send their children to private school or even homeschool. But poorer families often do not have the money to do so. The LEARNS Act gives those families in Arkansas the same opportunity as wealthier families—the ability to have options, whether that’s public school, private school, or even homeschool.  

Opportunity Arkansas and Arkansas Policy Foundation played a key role in advancing this reform

The Arkansas Policy Foundation, a state think tank in Little Rock, has worked on school choice since its founding in 1995. In the media and other outreach, the Foundation has recently noted the growth of Arkansas’ school choice market in response to demand from parents, students, businesses, and entrepreneurs. The Foundation’s research helped make the case for more parental choice in the state.

Opportunity Arkansas, a new public policy organization and partner to State Policy Network, was also involved in helping Arkansas lawmakers adopt a school choice program. The organization provided targeted polling on the Arkansas LEARNS Act so policymakers could better understand public attitudes on the proposed education reform. They told stories from families who have been failed by the status quo, including The Hagan family who decided to homeschool their children due to their varying learning needs. 

“The bottom line is that this legislation puts parents in charge of their kids’ education. It is no longer about their means, their Zip codes, or their income,” said Nic Horton, CEO of Opportunity Arkansas.

Nic draws from his personal experience and the promising future new education reforms offer families in the state. Nic’s family made many sacrifices, including his father working two jobs, so that he could be homeschooled and eventually attend private school. His education gave him the ability to pursue his dreams, including a career in public policy and a family of his own.

“We were poor growing up, and that is the story for a lot of families in Arkansas. We want to break this cycle of poverty, and a good education is at the foundation of that.”

Thanks to Opportunity Arkansas, the Arkansas Policy Foundation, and many more organizations, Arkansas children will have more opportunity to receive a quality education they need and deserve.

Jane McEnaney, SPN’s Director of Education Initiatives, noted:

“Today, Arkansas became the fifth state in two years to empower all parents and guardians with the chance to choose the education model that best fits and serves the unique needs of their child(ren). Equally exciting is the reaction from lawmakers, education reform advocates, and families in other states across the country, clamoring to be next. No child’s opportunity to learn should be limited on account of their family’s income or Zip code. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the tireless efforts of many, students in Arkansas will no longer be hamstrung and will instead be free to flourish as all children should.”

The Arkansas Governor added, “Arkansas made history today, setting the education model for the nation. The failed status quo is dead, and hope is alive for every kid in our state!”

Related Reading:

Arkansas General Assembly Passes Education Freedom Accounts
American Federation for Children

Market Growing: School Choice Enrollment Doubled
Arkansas Policy Foundation

Arkansas Universal School Choice Bill Clears Legislature And Heads To Gov. Sanders’s Desk
The Washington Examiner

School Choice in 2023: 10 States to Watch
State Policy Network

Everything You Need to Know About Education Savings Accounts
State Policy Network

Iowa Gives Thousands Of Children More Opportunity With New School Choice Program
State Policy Network

Utah Adopts School Choice Program to Increase Education Options for Students
State Policy Network

Policy Issues: K-12 Education
States: Arkansas
Organization: State Policy Network