Forward Arkansas was established in August 2014 as a unique partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Arkansas State Board of Education. Led by a coalition of stakeholders, extensive research has been conducted across the state to form a seven-pronged plan to improve student achievement in Arkansas, and we continue to encourage statewide discussion and bold action along the way to strengthen our state’s public education system.
This the first-ever partnership between the two largest foundations in the state, and Forward Arkansas also has the backing of many education, business, government and community leaders. We are working to position Forward Arkansas as the thought leader on initiatives focused on improving Arkansas education, starting at the grassroots level and going all the way up to policy makers to implement real statewide systems change.
The first of seven focus areas for Forward Arkansas, and the most pressing issue in this year’s legislative session, is pre-K. Specifically, we are focused on the need for additional funding for high-quality, voluntary pre-K programs that position students for success in kindergarten and beyond. Earlier this year, Governor Asa Hutchinson committed $3 million toward this effort, for which he should be applauded. But more funding is needed to prevent the removal of student seats and the closing of Pre-K centers and classrooms across the state. State support for pre-K has essentially been static—with only a small, one-time increase in funding—over the last nine years.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 31 percent of Arkansas third graders are actually reading on grade level. Starting our kids early with a quality program will expand opportunities for their success. Research shows that early childhood programs reduce grade retention, disciplinary problems, and placement in special education. In addition to early literacy and school readiness priorities, there are four other indicators that point to the need for high-quality pre-K:
- Poverty: Research shows that children in poverty hear 30 million fewer words by the time they enter kindergarten. Since 29 percent of Arkansas children live in poverty, access to a high-quality pre-K program is crucial to their development.
- Soft Skills: Many businesses now cite a gap in soft skills as a contributor to lowered efficiency and overall workplace readiness, so an investment in pre-K helps meet those critical workforce needs by starting to teach these skills early in a student’s life.
- Incarceration: A firm foundation in pre-K that sets a student up for success makes it less likely that that student will drop out of school, and since seven out of 10 of our inmates don’t have a high school diploma, this is a direct line back to the importance of pre-K education.
- Public Health: Enrollment in a pre-K education program means that impoverished children will have access to the critical health screenings and healthy meals throughout the day they need to learn and grow.
Join us in advocating for high-quality pre-K in Arkansas! Email your legislator today.