This afternoon, after close to 8 hours of conversation and debate, the Arkansas Senate Education committee passed SB294, the omnibus education reform bill, also known as the Arkansas LEARNS Act.
The bill was filed Monday evening and scheduled for a 9:00 a.m. hearing this morning. The public was given close to two days of notice. So much notice, in fact, that the Star City school district was able to dismiss many of their teachers—on a school today—to attend the hearing.
Nonetheless, over the last few days, many in the Educational Industrial Complex have been completely up in arms. According to these concerned citizens, the bill is being "rushed" through the legislature and the public is not being given enough time to weigh in on it. This battle cry has been repeated by Democratic legislators and the Arkansas Democrat Party as well.
So what's the answer? Is the bill being "rammed" through the legislature? I say no.
Here's several reasons why:
The governor even told us what the name of the bill was going to be when she released her "Arkansas LEARNS" plan during the campaign last year — nearly 6 months ago.
Countless legislative candidates campaigned on educational freedom during the last several election cycles, including the most recent one. Creating universal educational freedom is a significant part of what this bill does and anyone who has been paying attention to Arkansas policy in the last decade have had an abundance of time to study school choice and let their elected officials know what they think about it. At minimum, they've had since November 10, 2022, the day after the election, nearly four months ago.
Our faithful readers probably remember; we did an extensive write up on it here. And in fact, there was so much detail released at that point, we were able to conduct statewide polling on the LEARNS Act. (No surprise, Arkansas voters love it.)
This includes — just in the last few weeks — national interviews on Fox News, statewide interviews with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and more. They've taken questions, explained their process and logic, and made their case. It's simply unserious to suggest that this plan has been somehow hidden from public view.
You wouldn't know if from all of the hysteria online, but today was just Step 1 of the legislative process. The bill will still have to go through the full Senate, which will happen tomorrow at the earliest. Then the bill will go to the House side of the legislature where it will have to clear the 20-person Education committee and then the full House before arriving on the governor's desk. House Education meets tomorrow, but won't have the bill yet. The earliest they will be able to hear the bill would be next Tuesday morning.
Perhaps Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding said it best when he spoke to KARK and accidentally said the quiet part out loud:
“Last I heard, the plan is to run this bill in committee Wednesday…That’s less than 48 hours’ notice...So, we certainly think we need more time…Our main concern are the vouchers and the repeal of the Fair Teacher Dismissal Act. Those are two things that as long as those are main components of this bill, I can’t see any way that I’d personally be able to vote for it."
It sure sounds like Arkansas Democrats don't really need more time to make up their minds; they’ve already decided they’re against it, (even though even Leding admitted there are parts of the bill Democrats like). They want more time to raise a ruckus and try to derail it.
Are there times when legislation is carelessly rammed through in the dark of night? Absolutely. For example, consider when Congress filed and passed a $1.7 trillion spending bill around Christmas last year in 48 hours. That bill was more than 4,000 pages. The public had virtually no chance to weigh in.
This is not that.
Arkansans are free to dislike this bill — although most of them like it, and for good reason. But let's not pretend this is something that it isn't.
You can read SB294 here. It now heads to the full Senate for a vote.