Sanders to unveil plans for Arkansas education in coming months, gubernatorial candidate tells state GOP convention

Republican gubernatorial nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders plans to unveil proposed education reforms in the coming months, she said Saturday.

“I absolutely support our teachers,” she said in a brief interview after she spoke to several hundred people attending the Republican Party of Arkansas state convention in Little Rock.

“I think that we have to look for the best ways to reward hard work, good teachers,” Sanders said. “But I want to make a full education reform package, and I will be happy to talk about all the specifics and details of that over the coming months.”

Earlier, the daughter of former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee told the delegates at the GOP state convention that she is honored to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee of Arkansas.

“I know that while we are great, we can be even better,” she said of the state. She said that she is tired of watching Arkansas competing at the bottom in so many places when she knows that the state is capable of leading the nation.

“I know we can have the best education in the country because we are going to focus on educating — not indoctrinating — our kids,” Sanders said. “We are going to focus on empowering parents — not government bureaucrats — when it comes to education, and we are going to focus on making sure kids are prepared for the workforce — not a lifetime of government dependency, because that is not who we are.”

When “our kids finish school” they will have good high-paying jobs because “we are going to bring good jobs to this state and we are going to expand existing companies by doing things like phasing out the state income tax and rewarding hard work and stop penalizing it at the hands of the government,” said Sanders, a former White House press secretary for President Donald Trump.

The state’s individual income tax is the largest source of the state’s general revenues that help finance programs such as public schools, colleges and universities, human service programs, and correctional programs.

Afterwards, Sanders said that “we don’t have a set timeline [for phasing out the state’s individual income tax] because I think there are so many factors that come into play, the ebbs and flows of the economy.”

She said she will start with cutting waste, fraud and abuse out of state government, eliminating some duplication, and focus on modernizing state government and saving money through the use of technology, and work on growing the economy.

“The best way we can phase out the income tax is to grow our own economy,” Sanders said.

Sanders told the Republican state convention that she would fight back against “the radical left and the crazy ideas coming out of Washington.

“I will also be the leader that our state needs, somebody who leads with heart and compassion, and makes sure that we are doing good things — not just fighting against the bad — but that we are actually putting forth good policy and changing our state for the better,” she said.

In the Nov. 8 general election, Sanders of Little Rock is vying with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones of Little Rock and Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr. of Pine Bluff.

Sanders’ remarks on Saturday came on the heels of Jones unveiling a plan on Tuesday to use $400 million of the state’s $1.6 billion general revenue surplus to provide one-time bonuses of $2,500 for teachers and $1,000 for staff and significantly increase the state’s minimum teacher salary .

Jones said his plan supports Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initial proposal to raise the state’s minimum teacher pay from $36,000 to $46,000 a year, and he wants to raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by the end of his first term as governor. He said his plan also would provide a $4,200 raise to teachers making at least $46,000 a year or more and provide additional state investments to support rural teachers and deferred building maintenance needs.

Earlier this month, Hutchinson said he wouldn’t put a teacher salary increase on the agenda for the special session in the second week of August because of the lack of support in the Republican-dominated Legislature for a teacher pay increase in the special session. He had trimmed his initial teacher pay raise proposal and proposed increasing the minimum teacher salary to $42,000 a year and providing a $4,000 increase to every teacher for the 2022-2023 school year.

Many Republican lawmakers have said they want to wait for the House and Senate education committees to complete their biennial education adequacy review of this case and consider raising teacher salaries in the 2023 regular session, starting in January.

Republicans on the Legislative Council voted Thursday to recommend that school districts use federal education funds under the American Rescue Plan for one-time $5,000 bonuses for teachers and $2,500 bonuses for staff. The council stripped $500 million in spending authority that it granted last month to the state Department of Education for disbursing these federal education funds to school districts. The school districts will now have to obtain the council’s approval for their proposed use of the federal funds.

Hutchinson said Friday that he plans to call for the special session to start on Aug. 9, and the call for the special session will include tax cuts and school safety grants. Other items on the call remain an option, he said.

PARTY PLATFORM

Delegates to the Republican Party of Arkansas state convention voted Saturday to declare Arkansas Republicans’ support for closed primaries as part of the state party’s platform.

The state’s Republican National Committeeman Jonathan Barnett of Siloam Springs, a former state representative and former state Highway Commissioner, told the delegates that Republicans have good conservative candidates running for offices and Democrats are crossing over to vote in the Republican primary to vote for “moderates and “moderate to the left.”

He said he wants to elect Republican candidates in the Republican primary and not allow Democrats to vote in the Republican primary.

But Jamie Clemmer of Benton, the husband of former state Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, questioned the wisdom of “saying let’s close the door” to the Republican primaries to Democrats who lean Republican instead of operating with a big party tent.

Afterward, state Democratic Party Chairman Grant Tennille said in a written statement that “this Republican obsession with purity is getting out of hand.

“Arkansans like our open primary system because it gives them flexibility, particularly as it relates to local races, which may not have candidates from two parties contesting the seat,” he said.

Among other things, the state GOP platform approved by the state convention on Saturday states that:

• “… [W]e assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that unborn children have a right to live that cannot be infringed.”

• Every opportunity for every family to enroll each child in the school of his or her choice should be secured by the government and offered to families, and “… the student’s educational tax dollars should follow the student to his/her choice of educational procurement.”

• “We applaud income tax cuts made into law by Arkansas Republicans in recent years and strongly support the further expansion of income and other tax relief for all of our citizens.”

• Arkansas Republicans support the traditional definition of marriage “as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment between one man and one woman.”

The state GOP convention’s delegates voted Saturday to approve a resolution requesting the Legislature “to affirm its opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory [CRT] and any other similar teaching that promotes racial disunity, racial superiority and/or racial inferiority and anti-American rhetoric.

“These teachings sometimes single out or categorize students based on their race, color or ethnicity for the purpose of shaming or blaming them for current or past atrocities of others who may have been of the same particular race, color or ethnicity,” the resolution states . Critical race theory teaches as one of its main tenets that racism is inherent, unavoidable and systemic in the American culture, the GOP resolution states, but “we believe that racism is a learned behavior and not inherent in any human being.”

Earlier, the delegates to the state convention narrowly rejected an attempt to overturn the state Republicans’ Credentials Committee’s ruling not to seat 71 delegates from Pulaski County.

Julie Harris, chairwoman of the GOP’s Credentials Committee, said the names of the proposed delegates on ballots for Pulaski County were drafted in the wrong format and some of the names were spelled incorrectly.

Gun range owner Jan Morgan of Hot Springs, who made unsuccessful bids for the GOP nomination for governor in 2018 and for the US Senate this year, said the GOP convention should vote to seat the delegates from Pulaski County to allow some new people to participate in the process.

The GOP’s state convention seated 661 delegates, said Harris, who is secretary of the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Republican Party of Arkansas Executive Director Sarah Jo Reynolds said party officials didn’t allow a photographer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette into the state convention meeting at the Embassy Suites in west Little Rock because they didn’t want the photographer to take video of the meeting.

“That was just the decision we made,” she said when asked for a particular reason. Party officials allowed a reporter for the newspaper to attend the meeting.

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