The award application asks questions on the LEARNS Act, the Governor’s omnibus overhaul of Arkansas’s public education system

Arkansas’s Teacher of the Year Award is a tradition dating back to 1959. To be considered for the award, teachers must submit an application with basic information and answers to open-response questions.

One can probably guess the nature of most of the open-response questions. Tell us about a lesson you’ve taught, show us evidence of student growth, describe a project you took on to improve student outcomes— all responses we would expect to read about a prospective teacher of the year.

In the most recent application for the award, candidates are being requested to finish their response section with two questions related to the LEARNS Act, the Governor’s omnibus overhaul of Arkansas’s public education system:

4. How will you implement the LEARNS legislation into your classroom practice? What positive impact do you expect LEARNS to have for Arkansas students? (maximum 750 words)

5. As the 2024 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, you serve as a spokesperson and representative for teachers. If selected, please describe your proposed platform and how it relates to the Arkansas LEARNS law. What will you communicate to your profession and to the public? Please include a personal narrative that reveals why this platform is important to you. (maximum 500 words)

This is not the first time Sanders has used her position as Governor to require praise for LEARNS from others. When the LEARNS bill was being heard in committee, one GOP Representative stated publicly that he and his colleagues were being told they would lose funding for their district in the absence of their support for the act. Around the same time, Senator Breanne Davis, the LEARNS bill sponsor who worked closely with Sanders’ team on drafting the legislation, took to Twitter attacking a rural superintendent who dared allow his teachers to speak against the bill in committee.

More recently it was discovered that the Governor’s application for consideration on a board or commission was requiring an answer about the applicant’s favorite of Sanders’ accomplishments. Sanders’ communications team quickly responded with a story of mysterious website design problems, claiming the question was only intended for intern applicants to answer, as if that’s somehow better.

Now the Department of Education requires an educator to sing the praises of the Governor in order to be considered for Teacher of the Year award in the state of Arkansas.

The noteworthy required short answers involve “implementing LEARNS into your classroom practice” and connecting the proposed platform to the LEARNS law.

What academic purpose is served by implementing school-choice propaganda into one’s lessons? Can applicants win without offering LEARNS a stamp of approval via their platform?

Requiring such unwavering praise signals more than just ego. For government leaders, forced affirmation is a part of authoritarianism. If Arkansas continues down this path, we all lose.