Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order Wednesday intended to serve as a blueprint for her education priorities, including expanding early childhood education, improving literacy and reevaluating school accountability metrics.
During a news conference, Sanders said she expected her eighth executive order to “run parallel” with a single education bill she hoped lawmakers would pass during the legislative session.
“We are going to have a laser like focus on improving education in the state,” Sanders said.
In recent months, Sanders has repeatedly cited education as a top priority of her administration. During her inaugural address Tuesday, she said she aimed to become “Arkansas’s education governor.”
Part of the order directs the state Department of Education to study the availability of early learning programs for Arkansas students. By ensuring programs are available across the state, educators would be able to meet the state’s goal of getting 90% or more of third-graders reading at or above their grade level, said Jacob Oliva, secretary of the department, during the news conference.
The department will complete a "kindergarten-readiness analysis" within 90 days of the signing addressing the number of children five and under that have access to early care, how “quality” is defined by existing programs and the gaps that may exist between what is currently offered and what parents and families seek, according to the order.
Under the order, the agency will look closely at the benchmarks the state uses to issue letter grade ratings to public schools.
“We want parents to look at that grade and know that that grade means something,” Oliva said.
The order tasks the department with ensuring districts are applying school safety recommendations, coordinating with the state Board of Education to streamline the process to continue, expand and replicate effective charter schools and reviewing parent and public access to information on school curriculum.
The agency is expected to review the state's educator workforce and Arkansas’s preparation and licensure requirements for teachers, according to the order.
During her first day in office, Sanders signed seven executive orders. Among other objectives, the orders aimed to freeze government hiring, halt government regulation and address critical race theory in Arkansas schools.