Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a new education bill on Wednesday, one that ties important things like a higher minimum salary for teachers to new restrictions on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Good: The bill imposes a new minimum salary of $50,000 a year for teachers, 39% over what it formerly was. It also mandates at least a $2,000 pay raise for all teachers in the coming school year.
The Bad: The bill also imposes new prohibitions on classroom instruction, similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. It bans any classroom discussion, include in sex ed, about gender or sexual identity before fifth grade. This will leave young queer kids in the dark and isolated. Even more alarming, it puts into law an executive order the Arkansas governor signed last year prohibiting ‘critical race theory,’ which just means any discussion of systemic racism or the history of racism in classrooms.
The Ugly: Packaging these together means that the Republican governor and her supporters get to paint any opposition to these measures as anti-teacher.
The bill also includes a voucher program which will partially reimburse any parent moving their child to private school by taking the money directly out of public school coffers. The voucher program, already common and controversial in other states, has been criticized for years for increasing the inequity between public and private schools.
The voucher system “creates a tiered system to give some students better advantages than others,” Democratic Sen. Greg Leding, the Senate’s minority leader, said in a statement after the signing.
Ironically, the voucher program is being called an “education freedom account,” while coming from the same bill seeking to gag teachers left and right.
Teachers’ unions are calling the raised minimum wage a poison pill as well, saying that it eliminates the state-mandated salary schedule that sets pay ranges and raises, requiring school districts to set their own schedules. Since the state is not providing additional funding for the higher minimum wages for new teachers, many are expecting it to come from reducing the wages of veteran teachers who currently make above the new minimum.
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