We Ask Stakeholders Across the State About Educational Equity

September 4, 2019

ForwARd Arkansas serves as a champion for educational equity, a connector and convener for shared opportunity and a catalyst for innovation. We are proud to collaborate stakeholders from across the state to advance policies designed to ensure that every Arkansas student will graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace. Recently, we asked some of these leaders to share their perspectives on this important issue:

How can Arkansas best support the specific challenges and needs of schools in our rural communities?

“By first acknowledging and understanding the fact that rural needs many times cannot be normalized in a formula. Because of the uniqueness of our rural communities, an assessment needs to be completed on a case-by-case basis to determine specific need(s) and solution(s). This assessment MUST include the whole community and their capacity to address issues that are found and their ability to sustain that which is working.”

—Rep. Reginald Murdock (D-48, Lee and St. Francis Counties)


“Funding small districts based on what they actually need to meet the Arkansas Standards for Accreditation, especially in the area of personnel, would be a great way to support the specific challenges facing rural schools.  it is much more difficult for smaller districts to meet the staffing ratios in the current funding model.”

—Mike Mertens, Assistant Executive Director, Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators


“The state needs to develop a comprehensive plan to return prosperity to rural Arkansas, instead of the patchwork investments that have been made in random and largely ineffective fashion. Educational attainment is most often linked to family income. In rural schools, poverty is sometimes and somewhat offset by a more intimate setting and family-like atmosphere that provides important social and emotional support to students. However, until family incomes rise and rural students see more local economic opportunity at the end of their formal education, their lack of experiences and foundational knowledge, as well as their motivation to achieve, will still be suppressed.”

—Candace Williams, Executive Director, Rural Community Alliance


“When considering economic and community development, schools should be seen as cooperating not competing entities. The symbiotic relationship that exists between schools and their communities—because schools are often a major employer—demonstrates both the “Why?” and the “How?” Arkansas can support both and grow stronger overall. By investing in P-20 educational institutions, economic and community development, we can address the challenges seen by communities with less established urban spaces.”

—Matt Dozier, President/CEO, EAST Initiative


“We need to make sure that families in rural communities have access to supports and services that will prepare students to succeed in school. They need access to pediatricians and family physicians that can assess their developmental needs and connect them to resources to put them on a track to meeting their fullest potential. They also need affordable opportunities for quality early childhood education from birth to Pre-K.”

—Angela Duran, Campaign Director, Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading


“Education in Arkansas, and especially in our more rural communities, would benefit by coordinating connections between K-12 and other segments of the education pipeline, namely early childhood education, college readiness and the workforce, thorough proven, research-based strategies. In order to improve our state’s educational standards and successes, rural schools can offer an advantage to their students by providing necessary academic and technical skills to pursue a wide range of career options. Children benefit from mentors from within the community who can serve as role models and tutors—encouraging, supporting and motivating students to guide them in learning new skills and making positive choices for the future education and careers.”

—Shane Broadway, Vice President for University Relations for the ASU System and former Director of Arkansas Department of Higher Education


“The disparity in teacher salaries across the state is one of the greatest challenges to equity for rural schools and students. With up to a $20,000 annual difference in salary between small, poor, rural districts and growing urban districts, it is hard for rural schools to attract and retain good teachers and administrators. The state made an attempt to address this in 2004, narrowing the gap considerably, but in recent years the salary difference has again widened. Policymakers should again look at reducing the disparity between salaries in more prosperous and less prosperous districts. An additional approach would be to attract and retain more people into the teaching profession with programs for loan forgiveness, partnering with teacher training programs to create rural teacher corps, etc.”

—Lavinia Grandon, Founder, Rural Community Alliance


“Rural schools need improved access to the resources that are more readily available in urban settings.  Pea Ridge is considering becoming part of a regional ecosystem that ‘deliberately and intentionally’ connects our kids to resources outside of the community so that their experience base is broadened. This requires a commitment from local, regional and state government to demonstrate that students in rural communities are a valuable asset to Arkansas’ overall well-being and success”

—Rick Neal, Superintendent, Pea Ridge School District


“Arkansas rural schools are seeking ways to eliminate the student opportunity gap. This can be accomplished by hiring and retaining qualified teachers and leaders; implementing a curriculum that is rigorous and appropriate; offering a variety of courses such as Advanced Placement (AP), concurrent classes, and foreign language classes; and providing students with real-life experiences. A.J. Juliani said it best, ‘Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.’”

—Marcia Smith, Ph.D., Associate Superintendent, Springdale Public Schools