Commentary

Our new governor must invest in education

December 7, 2022 6:00 pm

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Arkansas just made history with the election of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as our first female governor. Her success in her role as governor will depend heavily upon her investment in education.

K-12 education issues were a top concern for voters, and her actions on these will be pivotal for our students, families, communities, and the state as a whole.

My first memory of an election is the 2002 gubernatorial race between Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, and Jimmie Lou Fisher. I was 9 years old, a fourth grader, and Mike Huckabee came to speak at my elementary school. I was ecstatic about meeting a “celebrity” and only understood the impact Governor Huckabee would have on my education experience much later.

During his tenure, our state went through unsuccessful and controversial rural-school consolidations. Governor Huckabee was also a supporter of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. His policies affected education in Arkansas for generations to come.

Now as a fifth-grade teacher, I am very intentional about how I relay the importance of elections to my students. I explain to them that what happens at the end of the elections will have a direct bearing on their educational journey as well as the generations after them and emphasize that they have the power to influence the decision-making process.

According to a recent study by Wallet Hub, Arkansas is among the least educated states in the country, ranking at number 47. If advancement is what Governor-elect Huckabee Sanders aspires for in Arkansas, education must be one of her top priorities.

Here are the issues that matter most to me as an educator and to my students:

Fund equity

Arkansas currently ranks 38th in per student funding and 41st in the nation in education funding. We use a specific matrix to determine the annual per student funding, based on a prototypical school of 500 students. This is inequitable, as the majority of our schools are not prototypical and the matrix is not legislatively required.

In an equitable school system, public schools are funded and given resources based on the needs of their students, not on the property wealth of their communities. In order to improve achievement and close opportunity gaps for our students, I suggest that our new governor eliminate the usage of this matrix and adopt a model that increases funding and addresses the needs of schools that serve our most vulnerable populations.

Implement universal preschool

Preschool participation has been shown to increase school readiness and academic achievement. Currently preschool is not mandated in Arkansas and preschool program options are limited. All children should have access and the opportunity to enroll in free, high-quality preschool programs to create a strong foundation for their education. The governor should ensure that funding is provided at the preschool level so that all our students enter schools prepared for learning.

Improve grade-level reading

Arkansas schools need resources and support to ensure all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status are reading on grade level by third grade. According to NAEP, 69% of Arkansas’ fourth-grade  students are reading below proficiency. Grade level reading by third grade is a critical predictor of a child’s life trajectory.

The governor needs to create partnerships that align our healthcare system with our schools to support healthy child development, beginning with prenatal health. The governor should also ensure schools have the funding and resources to provide early intervention to struggling readers and provide targeted support and services to our English language learners.

Invest in our teachers

In order to render success for students, we must invest in our teachers. As a first step, the governor should create a commission to examine the training, retaining and incentivizing of teachers. The governor should also reevaluate educators’ salaries in our state. In a recent policy brief, my colleagues in the Teach Plus Policy Fellowship recommend that our state should increase the statewide minimum starting teaching salary to $46,000, with a $4,000 raise for teachers who are already in the profession.  Teachers should also be compensated for additional certification, district assigned responsibilities, and leading professional development.

It is my hope that our governor-elect is thinking of our students and their future as she takes on her new position. As a 9-year-old, I welcomed her father to my school. I now invite Sarah Huckabee Sanders to visit the school where I teach and to speak with my students and my colleagues to better understand our needs and concerns.

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Iesha Green, Teacher
Iesha Green, Teacher

Iesha is a 5th-grade multi-subject teacher at Brady Elementary in Little Rock and a Teach Plus Arkansas Policy Fellowship alumna.

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