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Sanders: plans underway to improve state’s schools for the blind and deaf

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(The Center Square) – Construction will begin as quickly as possible on improvements to the Arkansas School for the Deaf and the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired after lawmakers found deteriorating conditions at the Little Rock Schools, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

The governor said the state has the funding.

“There’s already been roughly $30 million that’s set aside from the Legislature in 2021 and you can see by the demonstration of support right here, we have a shared commitment to make sure that this project is seen through to its completion,” Sanders said.

The March 2022 minutes of the board for the two schools confirm that $30 million was set aside by then governor Asa Hutchinson. The money was to be available in July 2022, according to the minutes. A spokesperson from the governor’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment about the funding.

Sanders said what she saw when she toured the building late last year left her speechless.

“All that stood in stark contrast with the campus itself–crumbling exteriors, leaking and drafty interiors. A vast piece of land, overseen by just a handful of staff with significant security, health and safety concerns,” Sanders said.

State lawmakers toured the schools in October of last year, according to a post by Sen. Clarke Tucker on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

“The School for the Deaf doesn’t even allow its students in the pool due to pieces of the roof falling in,” Tucker, D-Little Rock, said. “It’s not just about fixing buildings; it’s about providing a nurturing, safe, and enriching environment for these students while they are away from home.”

Robert Fagan, chairman of the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired board, said the schools are old.

“They were built in the late 1800s, early 1900s,” Fagan said. “I’ve heard stories of using duct tape and paper clips to fix things around there.”

Education Secretary Jacob Oliva said they will talk with stakeholders and listen to the experts in the schools.

“There is no reason that this can’t be the flagship program that makes all the other states say, ‘This is the state that did it right. How do we make our programs in our states just as good as theirs,'” Oliva said.

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