Governor Sanders Highlights Education and Public Safety in State of the State Speech

During her recent “State of the State” address, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders highlighted her key policy priorities, centering on education and law enforcement. She urged state legislators to approve her proposed state budget.

“I urge you to send me a budget that supports essential services for Arkansans while curbing government growth, and I will give it my approval,” Sanders emphasized to members of the House and Senate in a joint session marking the commencement of the state’s eighth fiscal session.

A joint session of the Arkansas Legislature on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, witnessed Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders outlining essential aspects of her proposed fiscal 2025 budget. (Sonny Albarado/Arkansas Advocate)

The proposed $6.3 billion general revenue budget features a markedly smaller spending rise of $109 million, representing a 1.76% increase, differing from the annual 3% hikes seen in past fiscal years.

Reiterating her commitment to “restraining the expansive growth of government,” Sanders reaffirmed that her proposed budget aimed to fulfill this pledge.

“Upon assuming office, Arkansas faced serious, deep-rooted issues that required a departure from failed policies of the past. Last year, we embarked on a new path,” Sanders explained.

She highlighted achievements from her term, including the enactment of two laws for income tax reductions, plans for a new 3,000-bed correctional facility, an executive order banning specific gender-neutral terminology in official documents, and a social media age verification law, which is currently subject to legal injunction.

Sanders also emphasized her unwavering support for law enforcement, revealing a $3.8 million provision in the budget aimed at bolstering the Arkansas State Police force. She expressed her intention to increase the force by 100 officers.

“While there are detractors aiming to divert our attention from these logical reforms, I implore you not to be swayed,” Sanders cautioned.

Educational Policy

Following her initial commitment to education, Sanders lauded the achievements of Arkansas’s new school voucher initiative.

Applications for new participants commenced on April 1, with over 1,800 submissions on the inaugural day. Notably, a quarter of new applicants for the Educational Freedom Account program are children of current and former military service members, a recently eligible demographic under the evolving program phased over three years.

“Educational freedom is a fundamental right for those safeguarding our liberties,” Sanders affirmed. “By next year, we anticipate universal education freedom in Arkansas for the first time.”

The EFA program is a component of the LEARNS Act, an expansive education law championed by Sanders that has reshaped the state’s educational landscape since its inception last year.

The governor’s budget proposal allocates $100 million to sustain LEARNS initiatives, with a $65.8 million increase designated for the EFA program, constituting approximately 60% of the total proposed budget expansion.

The voucher initiative subsidizes allowable educational expenses, including private school tuition. In its inaugural year, more than 5,400 students and 100 schools participated, with a phased eligibility expansion projected until all Arkansas students are eligible by the 2025-2026 academic year.

Prior to the LEARNS Act, the Arkansas Legislature enacted limited school choice measures, including the Public School Choice Act of 2015 allowing district transfers and the Opportunity School Choice Act permitting transfers for students in struggling schools.

Further, the Succeed Scholarship Program, initiated in 2015, facilitated private school education for students with specific needs, now integrated within the EFA program.

In addition to the voucher project, the LEARNS Act mandates a $50,000 minimum teacher salary and prohibits “indoctrination” in Arkansas schools. Sanders introduced an executive order with parallel directives regarding indoctrination on her inaugural day in office.

Expressing pride over implementing policies safeguarding “our children’s future,” Sanders underscored her commitment to education reform.

Recently, three Little Rock Central High students, their families, and an AP African American Studies teacher challenged the indoctrination clause of the LEARNS Act in federal court, citing it as “overreaching and discriminatory based on race.”

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