by Max Brantley
Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson delivered a "school reform" plan today. Not much new. To someone who asked how he could support meaningful standards at the same time he is fighting for preservation of a rural high school that hasn't been teaching all required courses, the answer is that he'd let the availability of courses by TV suffice for such places. He's for charter schools, of course, despite an absence of evidence for the notion that charter schools must be better than public schools because, well, just because.
We note that Hutchinson just happened to talk about smarter spending of school dollars the same day that Walton University's Walton Endowed Professor of Teacher Union Busting and Lower Taxes for Schools, Jay Greene, landed an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (natch) on runaway public school spending in Arkansas and nationwide. Ya think he might take a look at percentage increases in tuition at Walton U.while he's on the subject of runaway inflation?
See the jump for the text of Asa's full news release. (If campaign events run to form, Mike Beebe, his Democratic opponent, will shortly declare that he and Asa are on the same page.)
Little Rock , Ark. – Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas Republican candidate for Governor, laid out his K-12 education policy package today, calling education reform an "indispensable" element of his GROW ARKANSAS plan to initiate an era of better jobs and economic prosperity in Arkansas.
"Over the last year, I have traveled every part of this state, and the two things people want to talk about most are jobs and education," Hutchinson said. "And you really can't talk about one without talking about the other. A cornerstone of our GROW ARKANSAS plan is that you can't create better job opportunities without building a world-class education system. The two go hand in hand."
Speaking at Springdale High School , his alma mater, Hutchinson outlined a substantive education policy platform that touched on everything from teacher recruitment and retention to student testing to the role of parents and the local community as critical factors in a child's educational development.
"There are a few key elements that are necessary foundations to a world-class education system," Hutchinson said. "The Governor and the Legislature have done an outstanding job in working towards one of them – competitive teacher salaries and proper funding of our public schools. We've got to get the courts out of our classrooms, and the state must be committed to meeting the funding requirements of public education. At the same time, we must also recognize that the old way of doing things -- of simply raising taxes and increasing spending -- will not suffice. We done that for years, and we're still struggling.
"We need new thinking," Hutchinson continued. "We need to reward teachers for going the extra mile. We need to motivate parents and the local community to be involved in their children's education – from the cradle to the day of college graduation. We need to encourage rather than suppress innovative thinking in the classroom. And we need to maintain the highest standard in our schools while ensuring that bureaucracy and narrow thinking do not set in and replace a willingness to always change and adapt continually to do what's best for our kids."
Specifically, Hutchinson laid out the following key elements for his education plan:
Teacher Support Program: Teachers Ongoing Opportunities and Learning Support (TOOLS)
"Teachers are the most critical link to any education system, and they must be a first priority in any reform effort," Hutchinson said. "Of critical importance is to seek out ways to recruit, retain and reward top quality teachers in Arkansas. This should be a primary focus of the next step of education reform." Hutchinson called for offering multiple career advancement opportunities for teachers in the classroom so that our best and brightest teachers can stay where they most want to stay and are most needed – in the classrooms. He also emphasized the need to "reward excellence" by expanding the number of pilot programs in Arkansas that are experimenting with financial incentives and rewards for teachers who excel in the classroom; and who take on additional challenges such as teaching high-need subjects (such as math and sciences) and teaching in high-need regions (such as rural and Delta communities). Critical to Hutchinson's "rewarding excellence" plan would be the establishment of a Teachers Advisory Council composed of classroom teachers, to guide the development process of such pilot programs.
First Teachers Foundation: Encouraging and promoting parental involvement
"The active involvement of, commitment to, and ongoing participation in a child's education by parents and the local community is one of the most important factors in whether a child succeeds in education," Hutchinson said. "The first teachers in life, literally, are our parents." Hutchinson announced his plan to create a private education foundation – the First Teachers Foundation – that would launch a public awareness campaign to build awareness of the critical role parents play in education and to develop programs to assist parents and guardians and local communities in their active and ongoing involvement in education.
Promote Public School Innovation by Expanding Public Charter School Opportunities
Hutchinson praised the innovation and strong performance and results of many of Arkansas ' public charter schools, such as the KIPP School in Helena. Despite these successes, there were still too many restrictions on the ability of parents and communities to establish new public charter schools in Arkansas. This challenge is not new, he said, noting that as both governor and president, Bill Clinton struggled to increase the opportunities for public charter schools in Arkansas and the nation. "I was in Congress and listening to President Clinton in 1997 when he called for vastly increasing the number of public charter schools in the country. President Clinton said that the options and new thinking offered by charter schools would foster competition and innovation that would make our all of public schools better, and I agree." Hutchinson called for eliminating the cap on number of charter schools permitted in the state (currently 24); liberalizing the process for establishing a public charter school, particularly in high-need regions; and easing burdensome financing restrictions for charter school facilities.
Preserve Education Opportunities in Rural Communities and the Delta
"If a rural school is performing well and meeting academic and fiscal requirements, then state government should be a friend and not an enemy of that school," Hutchinson said. "We need to maintain the highest standards without discriminating against schools in our rural communities. Studies show that while district restructuring has a place in reducing inefficiencies, closing down schools in rural and impoverished communities harms the kids and increases the hurdles to their getting a good education. The kids should be our first priority, and closing down schools in rural and Delta communities should be viewed as a final resort and not a first choice," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson called for expanding distance learning opportunities for every school, including ensuring that the distance learning resources for every school are fully funded. He also urged a focus on enhancing distance learning programs available to rural schools through the state's Distance Learning Center .
In addition, Hutchinson suggested that the Arkansas Department of Education should study and set reasonable standards for public school transportation to ensure that no child spends an unreasonable amount of time on a bus traveling to and from school.
Improve Access to Voluntary Pre-K Education Programs
Voluntary pre-kindergarten programs can be an excellent source of support to parents to assist with early childhood development and learning, Hutchinson noted. Hutchinson called for greater access to these programs in Arkansas, especially for children in high-risk and low-income households.
In Janurary Hutchinson rolled out his GROW ARKANSAS campaign, which outlined eight principles for growing more and better-paying jobs in Arkansas. One of those eight principles was strengthening education reform in Arkansas to establish a world-class education system. (For more on the GROW ARKANSAS tour, visit www.asaforgovernor.org).
Hutchinson has already led the debate in the higher education arena, calling in February for greater investment in workforce training at the state's two-year colleges and greater investment in research and technology programs at the state's four-year colleges and universities. Hutchinson proposed dedicating state General Improvement Funds, unallocated funds currently divvied up among legislators for a variety of local projects, to these statewide needs. (For more on Hutchinson 's proposals to support jobs training and higher education, visit his website at www.asaforgovernor.org.)
His proposals announced today – from the First Teacher Foundation to his Teacher TOOLS initiative – mark his efforts to strengthen public education in the realm of K through 12.
Hutchinson, a native of Gravette, is a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, Member of Congress representing the state's Third District, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the first-ever Undersecretary of Homeland Security. Hutchinson currently serves as CEO of the Hutchinson Group, a Little Rock consulting firm.