Town hall answers questions about LEARNS Act

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 10:39 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The Rural Caucus of Arkansas hosted a town hall to discuss the LEARNS Act.

The panelists included a public school teacher, an assistant professor of history at Arkansas State University, a district ESOL coordinator, and a licensed social worker.

Each panelist brought different areas of expertise to the bill, which they said would negatively affect rural public schools in Arkansas.

“I’m pretty angry today, I’m just going to go ahead an say it. I’m pretty angry,” Askeland said.

Askeland teaches young students, and she discussed the effects the bill could have, specifically on teachers who have to make sure their students are having difficulties in their classes. She feared third graders who were having difficulties would be unable to move up because of changes to a system on the bill that would make those students take third grade over and over.

Another panelist, Allison Grigsby Sweatman, is a social worker who brought concerns about students with disabilities.

The town hall was full of residents, who at times gasped and spoke out against issues the 144-page bill would introduce. The bill introduced on Feb. 20 passed the committee March 1 and heads to the House for a full vote.

“The fact that they’re trying to push this through so quickly without time for analysis and discussion and things like that. It’s extremely concerning to me,” Kier Heyl, a resident said.

Allison Grigsby Sweatman and Jenny Petty, two of the panelists, were at the capitol speaking out against the bill, and they spoke of what they saw.

“We had people from everywhere in between from large districts, small districts, superintendents, board members speaking out against this,” Petty said.

The panelists discussed how the bill could affect smaller schools, fearing that if the bill passes, the smaller schools will consolidate because of a loss of funding. Its effect on public schools concerned Heyl.

“How are you going to have all these stipulations on public funding for public schools but none of them for private schools?” he said.

Other concerns brought up were for teachers, who panelists feel their jobs will become much harder, all the while making it easier to fire them. The town hall raised questions about money on how children with disabilities would be taught. Heyl said many more needed to hear what the panelists had to say.

“I think it’s important to have this town hall in every county As uninformed as I was about this, I know more than most and having this kind of public forum is so important to get that information out,” he said