Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe today introduced his comprehensive education plan, covering pre-K, K-12 and higher education policies.
Kicking off a three-city tour to highlight his initiatives, Beebe spoke at the Arkansas Association for Career and Technical Educators Professional Development Conference in Hot Springs, where he proposed "an additional $40 million annual appropriation to provide pre-kindergarten education to at-risk children, those below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Beebe said he will continue to make state appropriations for each year afterward until the state has established a universal voluntary, quality pre-k system for all Arkansas children."
The (extraordinarily long) press release is available after the jump. We're posting it almost immediately after receiving it, so we'll join you in sorting through it for additional details.
BEEBE UNVEILS PLAN FOR BEST IN ARKANSAS EDUCATION
Gubernatorial Nominee Proposes Seamless, Integrated Education for Pre-K, K-12, Higher Ed
(HOT SPRINGS/GREENWOOD) - Providing universal pre-kindergarten education and access to college while providing excellence in Arkansas schools took center stage today as Attorney General and gubernatorial nominee Mike Beebe proposed his plan to provide only the best in the Arkansas education system. Beebe traveled from Hot Springs to Greenwood today and will be in Little Rock tomorrow as part of the announcement tour.
"Our greatest asset is our people," Beebe told the Arkansas Association for Career and Technical Educators Professional Development Conference in Hot Springs. "Absolutely nothing is more important to the future of our state than our ability to provide Arkansans an opportunity to maximize their God-given potential with a good education. The benefits of education are immeasurable, improving individual quality of life, income, health and especially the state economy."
Beebe proposed an additional $40 million annual appropriation to provide pre-kindergarten education to at-risk children, those below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Beebe said he will continue to make state appropriations for each year afterward until the state has established a universal voluntary, quality pre-k system for all Arkansas children. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on pre-kindergarten education, there is an $8 return for the state economy.
"And as these policies are implemented, we have to be sure that the people in the trenches - Arkansas teachers, education support professionals and parents - are there every step of the way to help keep things on track," Beebe said later that day at Greenwood High School.
To that end, Beebe said private businesses should consider offering paid leave time for parents to attend parent teacher conferences and volunteer at their children's school. State government will lead the way under a Beebe administration, providing one full day of paid leave for parent teacher conferences and school volunteering.
Keeping kids out of trouble and in a safe, learning environment will be another priority of the Beebe administration. The attorney general said he would convene a task force to evaluate the whats, wheres and whens of after-school and summer programs.
"In today's global economy, we have to begin teaching our kids the fundamentals of technology from day one," Beebe said before he proposed developing a statewide broadband infrastructure and online curricula for teaching technology in the classroom.
To ensure that all students - rural and urban alike - receive not only a core education of the fundamentals, but also have access to enrichment and other classes, Beebe proposed a model Traveling Teachers program for districts and schools to share teachers much like the way speech teachers already travel among schools.
But, innovation alone cannot provide a complete education for Arkansas' children. Good teachers remain the bedrock of Beebe's plan.
Today, 50 percent of all new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. To help recruit and retain good teachers, Beebe suggested an alternative pay pilot program, based on longitudinal tracking, charting a student's growth over the year and based on multiple measurements regardless of the students starting point. Beebe proposed expanding the teacher mentor model as another way to help retain bright teachers in the Arkansas public school system.
To give more Arkansans the chance to continue their education after high school, specifically those who would otherwise not have the opportunity, Beebe said he will create an Educational Enhancement Grant program as a need-based form of financial aid for higher education.
The Career Pathways Initiative that provides financial and other forms of support at two-year institutions for adult-learners will be expanded to all two-year colleges under the Beebe plan.
The gubernatorial nominee also proposed more educational consortia like the Arkansas Delta Training and Educational Consortium that partnered community colleges, federal and state agencies and others to bring access to advanced automotive and manufacturing training to the Delta. Beebe said he will facilitate collaboration between community colleges and industry leaders across the state. To ensure more university research, Beebe said he will continue to support the BioSciences institute and encourage more university research partnerships as governor.
An Education Policy Proposal for Integrated, Seamless Education
Arkansas's greatest asset is its people: toddlers, children, teens, young adults, adults, and seniors. Each group is stronger because of the others. A system of continuous learning will only make those ties stronger and help each group transition to the next. We have a number of plans to help ensure that every child in Arkansas receives an excellent education.
We also believe that those "in the trenches" should help make the policies they follow, and we will involve both teachers and education support professionals in the policy-making procedures for their various disciplines.
Developing Universal Pre-Kindergarten Education
Provide an additional $40 million annual appropriation for the growth of pre-k when the legislature is next in session, and continue to make state appropriations for each year afterward until the state has established a universal pre-k system that is supported by regular state revenues.
Continuous learning starts early - with a fully funded quality pre-kindergarten program for ALL three-and-four year-olds in families earning less than 200% of the poverty level. The additional $40 million needed to fully fund this first and critical educational step is the cornerstone of a continuous education. Pre-k is vital for future learning, school readiness, and success in the job market. The educational and economic benefits of pre-k cannot be underestimated; children who attend pre-k are three times more likely to make better grades and are significantly more likely to graduate from high school on time than those who do not attend pre-k.
Arkansas's economy is estimated to grow at least $15 billion by 2035 because pre-k will have been available to all of our children in low-income and working families, and for every dollar invested in quality pre-k, the state will get back a minimum of $8. Not only does the program pay for itself, but high quality pre-k is the necessary initial component of a seamless, integrated education system.
K-12: Investing in Additional Programs and Teachers
Parental Involvement: Expanding Opportunities
Create partnerships with industries to expand opportunities for parents or guardians to be able to attend parent-teacher conferences and volunteer at their children's schools with paid leave.
Lead by example: state government will allow state employees one day of paid leave to volunteer in their children's school and attend their children's parent-teacher conferences.
Woven throughout continuous learning is the need for parental involvement. Students with parents or guardians who participate in their education, regardless of income or background, will earn higher grades, attend school regularly, graduate from high school, and attend post-secondary education. Encouraging parents or guardians to participate and providing them with inroads to participate is therefore a crucial part of a continuous education. Private employers should be committed to providing employees with paid leave time to attend their children's parent-teacher conferences and to volunteer in their children's schools. The state government would like to take the lead in this initiative and allow state employees one full day of paid leave each school year to attend their children's parent-teacher conferences and to volunteer in their children's school. Parental involvement may take parents or guardians away from work for a limited time, but this involvement will only help to produce better employees in the future.
Supporting a Seamless Educational Transition with After-School and Summer Programs
Convene a task force composed of teachers, parents, school district and school board representatives, child advocates, and the State Department of Education to assess the whats, wheres, and whens of after-school and summer programs.
A discussion of continuous learning would not be complete without touching on the importance of after-school and summer programs. While children's school days are full of activities, it is often true that their afternoons, evenings, and summers loom as "open-time." After-school hours, between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., are the times when children are most likely to be victimized, to become injured, or to get into trouble. The violent victimization of children more than triples when school is not in session. After-school hours are the most common times for teens to become pregnant. Moreover, children unsupervised after school are twice as likely to smoke, drink, or abuse drugs. In Arkansas, 18% of children in grades K-12 take care of themselves after school. We need to ensure that our children are safe and have quality after-school and summer programs to attend. To that end, a task force composed of teachers, parents, school district and school board representatives, child advocates, and the State Department of Education will convene to assess the whats, wheres, and whens of after school and summer programs.
Linking learning from one day to the next and one year to the next is another important aspect of after-school and summer programs. Subjects can be reviewed and homework completed after school, which ensures understanding and retention from day to day. Summer programs help to fill the gap between one school year and the next, providing ample time to review, to encourage continued learning, and to promote retention. Students participating in after-school and summer programs will be more prepared for the next day, the next lesson, and the next school year.
Developing Statewide Broadband Infrastructure and Providing Technology Equity
Undertake an up-to-date assessment of the technology resources in our schools, where we need to improve, and how these resources are used.
Formulate a timeline to ensure that every child has access to the information superhighway based on this assessment.
Our students deserve the best and most up to date learning tools that we can provide. It is absolutely essential that all of our students have high-speed Internet access and computers with sufficient memory and speed to leverage the power of the Internet. Video conferences with University professors from across the state and nation should be attainable for all of our high schools, regardless of location or income. We will strive to ensure that none of our children fall behind and to ensure that they have the best tools to learn and grow in their classrooms. We will undertake an up-to-date assessment of the technology resources in our schools, where we need to improve, and how these resources are used. When the assessment is complete, we will formulate a timeline to ensure that every child has access to the information superhighway.
Ensuring Teacher Quality
Create options to ensure rural students have access to 21st century education.
Create authorizing legislation or construct a regulation to encourage Traveling Teachers.
Launch pilot program for comprehensive alternative pay option for Arkansas teachers.
Attract and retain quality teachers by continually upgrading the existing teacher mentor model.
Expand the existing teacher mentor model to provide more supports for new teachers.
Train teachers in new technologies through an on-line curriculum developed with input from the technology and education sectors so that teachers will not only be better equipped for the digital world that their students are fast becoming a part of, but will also be better able to monitor children's activities and teach them about Internet Safety.
Providing Incentives to Share Resources through Traveling Teachers
Without quality teachers, we would not be successful in educating the people of Arkansas. To help ensure that the best teachers are available to all students, Traveling Teachers are needed in rural areas of the state to ensure that students in all districts have access to classes that will prepare them for jobs and further education in the 21st century. Speech teachers in rural areas already know the benefits of traveling from district to district, and this program would utilize existing educational cooperatives and technology to encourage teachers in other subject areas to do the same. The state should create options through authorizing legislation or constructing a regulation to encourage these shared services. To promote Traveling Teachers, we will work to ensure Traveling Teachers receive the benefits they would get in a single school district position, reimbursement for travel expenses, and time for preparation. Furthermore, this program will help small rural schools offer the courses they need to teach Smart Core, the thirty-eight courses districts are required to provide annually, and required Advanced Placement courses. It will also allow teachers to use their expertise to the greatest extent possible within a given geographic area.
We must also look into various alternative pay options with a pilot program that teachers help design and may opt into. One example is alternative pay based on longitudinal tracking, which charts a student's growth over the year based on multiple measurements regardless of the student's starting point. Consequently, teachers are not judged based on the quality of the student; rather, they are judged on how much the student progresses over the school year. Other factors in alternative pay may include the student's attendance records and teacher's individual efforts such as National Board Certification, professional development opportunities, extracurricular activities, mentor involvement, and education level. Over 160 studies, reports, and papers suggest that National Board Certified teachers in classrooms profoundly impact student learning, and we should better reward teachers for this great accomplishment. We must develop education policies that reflect generally-recognized best practices for teaching and learning in all public schools. In addition, peer evaluations involving teachers and administrators may be involved in the alternative pay pilot program.
Expanding Teacher Mentor Program
Teacher retention is a major issue facing public education in Arkansas as teachers from the Baby Boom generation continue to retire. Moreover, 50% of all new teachers leave the profession within 5 years. Therefore, we must do all in our power to retain teachers beyond just a few years. Expanding the existing teacher mentor model to provide more supports for new teachers beyond mentoring for the Praxis III exam should be pursued. To support novice teachers in their first year, the mentoring program should begin the moment novice teachers are hired. This expansion would allow new teachers to interact with master teachers as new teachers prepare for their first year of teaching and beyond passage of the Praxis III exam. Moreover, if an experienced teacher changes to another district, he or she should be given a mentor from the moment of hire through the first semester of teaching in the new district.
Guidelines should also be established to determine which master teachers serve as mentors. National Board Certified Teachers should be given first priority to mentor new teachers. Additionally, if a new teacher is hired by the district in which he or she student taught, the supervising teacher during the student teaching period should be given priority to mentor the new teacher.
Technology Training for Teachers: Expanding Technology as an Instructional Tool Arkansas's most recent State Technology Report Card resulted in an overall grade of B-. Arkansas can improve; we lag behind in computers in classrooms as well as internet-connections in our classrooms. All Arkansas students should have access to the full range of technology, including not only computers, but also wireless communications, data and curriculum software, and Internet video streaming. Teachers trained in these new technologies through an on-line curriculum developed with input from the technology and education sectors will not only be better equipped for the digital world that their students are fast becoming a part of, but will also be better able to monitor children's activities and teach them about Internet Safety. We need to provide our teachers and students with the best possible learning tools while also ensuring their safety.
Higher Education: Increasing Access and Encouraging Collaboration
Offering Need-Based Financial Aid to Create Educational Enhancement Grants
Create Educational Enhancement Grants as a need-based form of financial aid for higher education
No student should be prevented from continuing his or her education because of an inability to pay for that education. While education costs continue to rise and and federal student aid alone does not meet many students' needs, it is time for Arkansas to step in and provide funds for those who wish to continue their education. The return on the investment is worth every penny; in fact, for every dollar invested in higher education, we can expect a $9.30 return on that investment. While Arkansas has many outstanding grant programs for those who excel academically, yet more students could benefit from a grant program that is based on need. These are the students who will most benefit from an extra push towards post-secondary education. By helping to fund college tuition, we will be providing enhanced educational opportunities for those students who most need it.
Expanding Educational Partnerships
Facilitate discussions among industry leaders and community colleges throughout the state to ensure that collaborations such as the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortiumcan develop and thrive.
Encouraging Additional Educational Consortia
A remarkable example of what can happen when educational institutions come together is the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium. Recognizing the need for a workforce with a specific type of education, community colleges, the Department of Health and Human Services, Workforce Education, and Economic Development Agencies, the federal government, and many others are working together to bring access to advanced automotive and manufacturing training to the Delta. This collaboration will ensure that new jobs will be filled with productive and educated Arkansans, growing the economy while serving the needs of the community and its members. We will facilitate discussions among industry leaders and community colleges throughout the state to ensure that collaborations such as the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium can develop and thrive.
Continuing Education and Research
Expand the Career Pathways Initiative to all community colleges in the state to positively impact the lives of adult learners, their children, and their communities.
Provide opportunities to partner universities together for research endeavors.
Increasing Assistance for Adult Learners
In our state's two-year colleges, adult learners make up over half of the student population with enrollment continuing to rise. These students face unique challenges to securing a post-secondary education often including a need for child care and flexible scheduling. The Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative is a fabulous program working to ease these barriers and to provide financial support for our adult learners. Funded through the TANF program in FY06 and FY07, half of the state's two-year colleges have served almost 2,000 adult learners. Expanding the Career Pathways Initiative to all community colleges in the state will positively impact the lives of these adult learners, their children, and their communities.
Ensuring Adequate Support for University Research
The Biosciences Institute is an excellent resource for the state of Arkansas and the world. By incorporating agriculture into medical research, Arkansas is using its own natural resources to find ways to cure diseases. Arkansas not only should continue to support this excellent research institute that we are so lucky to have, but we should also provide more opportunities to partner universities together for research endeavors.