“My education vision for Arkansas is simple: I want every child to start sooner and finish stronger,” said Ross. “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.”
Ross cited a study by the Committee for Economic Development, whose members include more than 100 of the nation’s top business leaders, which 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-kindergarten 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,” said Ross. “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-k 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, Ross said he wants to make quality pre-k accessible to every 4-year-old in Arkansas by 2025. Ross’ 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, Ross’ 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-kindergarten 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,” said Ross. “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.”
Ross said his pre-kindergarten education plan will require a total investment from the state of $37 million a year when fully implemented, but he said this investment will help save the state money in other areas.
“When students are given an early start, they finish stronger,” said Ross. “Study after study shows that for every dollar you invest in pre-kindergarten, 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 parents 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.”
Last month, Ross received the endorsement of the Arkansas Education Association, an organization representing more than 12,000 educators and education support professionals from across the state of Arkansas. He has also been endorsed by 65 of the state’s 75 county sheriffs; 56 of the state’s 75 county judges; and, Governor Mike Beebe.
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