As the son of public school educators, I have personally seen how transformative a good education can be and how it can open doors of opportunity for countless people.  

I am running to be the "Education Governor" because I believe strengthening education is how you become the jobs governor.  

In order to attract the good-paying, high tech jobs of today and tomorrow, we must first develop an educated, skilled and trained workforce here in Arkansas.

I want our children to start sooner and finish stronger, with increased access to quality pre-kindergarten education and stronger, more innovative public schools.  I want to make college more affordable for more families.  And, for those Arkansans who choose not to go to college or who are transitioning between jobs, I want to renew our state's focus on career and technical education and workforce training.  We need greater partnership with our community colleges and existing industry to help more Arkansans get the skills and training they need to land a good-paying job for themselves and their families.

I am personally familiar with the challenges and rewards that come with teaching.  It is truly a noble calling, and I want to have our teachers' backs.  By ensuring our teachers have the resources and training they need to effectively do their jobs, we are ensuring our children get the world-class education they deserve.  I am proud to be endorsed by the Arkansas Education Association and to have the support of thousands of teachers across Arkansas.  As the son of educators, it is a tremendous honor.

I believe educators and local school districts should have more control over their own curriculum and have the flexibility necessary to meet the unique needs of their own community.  As governor, I will also find a long-term solution to the public school employee health insurance crisis that ensures affordable rates and quality coverage.  Teachers should be focused on teaching, not worrying about how they will afford their health insurance.

The reality of today’s job market is that half of all jobs today did not exist 25 years ago.  The economy is changing at a rapid pace, and it’s important for Arkansas to keep up.  If we are to grow and be successful, our workforce will have to be better educated, better trained and more adaptive than ever before.

I want our students to be adaptive and to think critically – to not only memorize an answer, but also explain how they got the answer.  I want our students not only to get into college, but also to graduate from college.  Or, if college isn’t the right fit, I want our students to have the opportunity to get a skill or certification that helps them land a good-paying job.

Education is how we transform the future of Arkansas and it's how we move middle class, working families to the front of the line. I have a comprehensive "Start Sooner, Finish Stronger" plan to strengthen public education in Arkansas.  I hope you'll take some time and read my plan, outlined below.

"Start Sooner, Finish Stronger" Education Plan

Pre-Kindergarten Education

Click here to read my detailed plan on making quality pre-kindergarten education accessible to every 4-year-old in Arkansas.

My education vision for Arkansas is simple: I want every child to start sooner and finish stronger.  If we want more of our children to graduate high school and college, if we want to reduce the number of Arkansans in prisons or living on government assistance, if we want a better-educated workforce to attract the good-paying jobs of the future, and if we want every child in Arkansas to have the opportunity to achieve his or her dreams, then we must fully support quality pre-kindergarten education and make it accessible to every 4-year-old in Arkansas. No child should ever be on a waiting list for pre-k in Arkansas.

A study by the Committee for Economic Development, whose members include more than 100 of the nation’s top business leaders, found children who have quality early childhood education are 80 percent more likely to attend college, 23 percent more likely to be employed, and earn 33 percent more than those who did not attend a quality program. Studies have also found that pre-k in Arkansas has done more than any other intervention to help close the education achievement gap among children in Arkansas, helping to give every child – regardless of race, income or geography – the opportunity for a bright and successful future.

As the son of public school educators and as a parent, I have seen firsthand the power a good education can have in a child’s life.  Based on what we know about children’s brain development during the first five years of their life, pre-k has become just as necessary as kindergarten or the first grade. We have made great progress in expanding access to pre-kindergarten in Arkansas over the years, but funding has been flat-lined since 2008 and we run the risk of getting left behind. Democratic and Republican governors around the country are beginning to make pre-k a top priority, like they have in Oklahoma. Arkansas has a unique opportunity to become a national leader in preparing our young people for college and careers and positioning our state to attract the good-paying, high-tech jobs of the future.

While only about half of Arkansas’s 4-year-old children are enrolled in quality pre-kindergarten education, I want to make quality pre-k accessible to every 4-year-old in Arkansas by 2025.  My plan will do so by gradually making the state’s quality pre-k program, known as Arkansas Better Chance (ABC), accessible to every 4-year-old child in Arkansas through a sliding fee scale based on the child’s household income.

Initially, my plan will expand the existing ABC pre-k program – free of charge – to include families who make below 300 percent of the poverty level, or below $59,370 for a family of three (current law sets the limit at 200 percent of poverty). The result: nearly two-thirds of 4-year-olds in Arkansas will have access to a free, quality pre-kindergarten education.

Secondly, the state will make the ABC pre-k program accessible to families who make between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty level (between $59,370 and $79,159 for a family of three) at a reduced rate of half the cost of the program – or currently $70 per week. Finally, the state will eventually make the ABC pre-k program available at the full rate (currently $140 per week) for those families who make above 400 percent of the poverty level (or more than $79,160 for a family of three).

Under my pre-k plan, nearly two-thirds of all 4-year-olds in Arkansas will have access to quality pre-kindergarten education free of charge by 2025.  Ultimately, I would like quality pre-k free and accessible for every 4-year-old in Arkansas, and my plan is a solid first step in achieving that goal.

My pre-kindergarten education plan will require a total investment from the state of $37 million a year when fully implemented, but this investment will help save the state money in other areas.

When students are given an early start, they finish stronger.  Study after study shows that for every dollar you invest in pre-k, you see a $10 return on investment. Economists find that investing in high-quality pre-k yields significant returns for states, helping to reduce the number of people living in poverty or relying on government assistance. And, the nation’s business community has also said that pre-k will help states develop a more competitive workforce in today’s global economy. As the son of public school educators and as your next governor, I will work day and night to strengthen public education in Arkansas and make this state an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

Innovation Laboratory

Innovation is driving the global marketplace at a break-neck pace, and it is absolutely critical that innovation also drives the progress of our schools.

We must recognize that school districts and communities across the state have very different needs, and a school district should have the flexibility to be able to graduate students who can meet those needs.  Whenever possible, we should encourage collaborative family, school and community partnerships that help students get the education and training they need to find jobs and to help communities have the workforce needed to grow the jobs they have and attract new ones.

State government cannot and should not micro-manage local districts.  Instead, the state should encourage local projects, programs and initiatives that can transform learning, and then encourage the replication of those successes statewide. 

To encourage innovation in public education in Arkansas, I will set aside $5 million from the state’s surplus to create the Innovation Laboratory (InLab) Fund.  This fund will make small grants available to educators, schools or school districts to implement innovative, yet proven learning strategies, projects and programs that are aimed at reducing the education achievement gap in our schools.

Each recipient will be required to report on the progress of each activity, and, every year the state will publish a public report detailing the progress of all grant recipients.  The goal is to share these innovative ideas with educators and schools around the state so that they can replicate the successful ideas in their own communities.

For example, InLab funds can be used to support conversion charter schools, the Arkansas A+ curriculum, social and emotional learning, Montessori classrooms, Schools of Inquiry, flipped classrooms, and other learning strategies that lead to successful, critical thinking students.  InLab can also be used to support projects and programs that complement and strengthen a child’s in-classroom learning experience, such as a greater focus on STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) and project-based learning like EAST® (Environmental and Spatial Technology, Inc.).

Many of today’s highly successful and innovative educational programs and projects started out as small ideas.  The goal of InLab is to encourage more of those small ideas in hopes they take off and become another educational success story. 

FOCUS Reports

Whether you are about to graduate from high school or are a working adult looking for a career change, choosing a college major or career pathway can be confusing.  It can also be a very daunting task because of today’s rapidly changing global economy.

That’s why I will direct the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, in consultation with the Governor’s Cabinet for Economic Development, to issue a Forecast of Careers in the United States (FOCUS) report to each and every 8th grade and 11th grade student and their family.

The FOCUS report will provide a 10- and 25-year forecast of the job market here in Arkansas and across the United States.  It will detail what are likely to be the highest-paying and highest-demanded careers when they enter the workforce, and it will make recommendations on suggested areas of study or technical training to pursue those careers – helping our young people better prepare and plan for their academic and career pathways.

For instance, we should encourage more young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) because they are, and will continue to be, among the most demanded careers over the next few decades.

Here are some straightforward facts our young people should know, and facts like these would be part of the annual FOCUS report:

On an individual level, the FOCUS reports will empower our young people to make better and more informed decisions about their own future and help ensure they will have the training they need to get a good-paying job when they enter the workforce. 

On a broader level, the FOCUS reports will help our state develop a workforce that will be able to meet the future needs of employers – better positioning our state to compete for more and better-paying jobs for years to come.

Arkansas School Recognition and Reward Program

Arkansas has many great public schools across this state that are providing their students with a top-notch education and that are going above and beyond to better serve their students.  And, there are just as many public schools that are working hard to improve their performance and finding ways to better serve their students.  Fortunately, there is a program that recognizes these efforts and encourages others to do well.

The Arkansas School Recognition and Reward Program provides financial awards to public schools that experience high student performance, student academic growth, and for secondary schools, high graduation rates. 

Here’s how the current program works:  high student scores on state exams are combined with high achievement growth on those tests to determine a rating and then a ranking among all the schools. For high schools, graduation rates are substituted in the calculation for achievement growth. 

The top 10 percent of schools can receive financial awards of up to $100 per student, and schools within the second-highest 10 percent can receive up to $50 per student.  However, because only $7 million was allocated to the program for 2014, the top performing schools only received $90.70 per student and the second-highest tier only received $45.35 per student.

Therefore, I will make the School Recognition and Reward Program a permanent part of the state’s budget and will fully fund the program every year. 

Also, the current program calculates a school’s overall score by combining performance and improvement; it does not separate the two.  So, a school that consistently performs at a high level will score low in improvement, and a low-performing school that shows improvement will, nonetheless, still score low in overall performance.  This is unfair to both types of schools, and it must be changed. 

I will also work with policymakers, school districts, superintendents, educators and parents to make the program fairer by recognizing performance and improvement separately, awarding the top 10 percent of highest performing schools in Arkansas and the top 10 percent of most improved schools in Arkansas.  Both will based on the current two-tier system, with the top 5 percent in each category receiving $100 per student and next top 5 percent in each category receiving $50 per student.  

In the performance ratings, I will also encourage policymakers to incorporate national rankings into the overall criteria, so that schools can see not only how they compare against one another in Arkansas, but against schools across the nation as well.

This recognition and these rewards are critical because they reward educators and principals for their hard work and commitment to our students. 

Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship

One of the most important actions the state of Arkansas can take to develop an educated, skilled and trained workforce is to ensure we keep more of our own best and brightest students right here in Arkansas.  The Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship is key to doing just that.

The Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship pays up to $10,000 per year for tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board for eligible, high-performing students at any Arkansas public or private institution of higher education.

Eligible students must meet the following criteria: earn either a 32 composite score on a single ACT or 1410 combined math and critical reasoning score on a single SAT and either a 3.50 academic GPA or selection as a National Achievement Finalist or National Merit Finalist.  

If funding allows, up to 300 Governor’s Distinguished Scholars may be named. However, funding is not always available to fully fund all eligible students, meaning some of best and brightest students miss out on this important scholarship that keeps them here in Arkansas. 

In 2014, for example, nearly 500 students were eligible for the scholarship and chose to stay in state for their education.  Because the law only guarantees up to 300 scholarships, it forced 193 students to be placed on a waiting list.  Fortunately, the Arkansas Legislative Council approved “rainy-day” funds to fully fund the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship this year, but these scholarships should be guaranteed each and every year. 

As governor, I will work with policymakers to prioritize fully funding the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship and ensure we fund scholarships for each eligible student.  Fully funding this scholarship is an important investment that helps keep Arkansas’s best and brightest here in Arkansas, and helps give our state the well-educated workforce it needs to attract the jobs of the future. 

Public/Private Partnerships

Only 18 percent of working age Arkansans 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree. Across the nation, Arkansas currently ranks 46th in the percentage of working-age adults (25 to 64) with an associate’s degree and 49th in the percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

We are making progress.  Of the states that make up of the 16-member Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), Arkansas has had the 4th highest growth in bachelor’s degrees awarded at public institutions in the most recent five-year period.  However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

The fact remains that out of 100 9th graders today in Arkansas, 80 of those will graduate high school, only 40 will go to college and only 20 will graduate with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

As a state, we must address employment opportunities for the other 80 percent.

Today in the United States, there are 29 million “middle-skilled jobs” that pay $35,000 or more on average and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.  However, by the year 2018, nearly two thirds of all jobs created in the United States will require some form of education or training beyond simply having a high school diploma.

According to the National Dropout Prevention Center, states must stop looking at academic skills and vocational skills as two separate entities, especially since the economy has become global rather than national.  Businesses want workers with lifelong-learning skills. Workers will have multiple careers over their life span, so lifelong-learning skills are vital. 

It’s time for Arkansas to lead the way in educating and training our workforce for the needs of the labor market.  We should be encouraging our schools and community colleges to offer more school-to-work programs to integrate academic and career-based skills and, in turn, raise academic standards for all our students.  

We should be exploring new ideas and new models, such as tech prep, career academies, school registered apprenticeships, student internships, career-oriented high schools, and school-based enterprises.  And, our communities, community colleges, local government and local industries should work together and start leading the way. 

I am proposing Arkansas implement a statewide coordinated effort to encourage communities to prioritize developing a skilled, trained and educated workforce by pursuing Arkansas Work Ready Community certifications. 

This proposal is discussed in detail under the “Jobs” section of the website, but I will make career and technical education and workforce training a priority by encouraging communities all over Arkansas to achieve a nationally recognized “Work Ready” certification. 

To do so, the communities will be encouraged to partner with their community colleges and other higher education institutions and with local industry to create plans to better train job seekers and to increase the number of people in the community who have earned an Arkansas Career Ready Certificate.  By meeting these goals, communities across Arkansas will be certified by the state of Arkansas as a nationally recognized “Work Ready” Community helping to attract more and better-paying jobs to more of Arkansas’s communities.

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