OPINION | Ben Kutylo: Seek excellence

Every Arkansas student deserves an excellent education. A report presented to Arkansas’ House and Senate Education Committees earlier this month recommends that we should do more to provide our students with the opportunities they deserve, particularly high-need students and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report, developed by researchers at Augenblick, Palaich & Associates (APA), makes several recommendations to aid the state in providing an equitable education to all students, as is constitutionally required. As APA recommends, we should re-examine the ways in which we distribute state dollars to schools in order to both fully fund their needs and free up other sources of funding for their intended purposes. There are a handful of areas, however, in which we should go further to specifically provide high-need students with an excellent and equitable education.

One area on which we should focus attention is the use of “Enhanced Student Achievement” funding, which is intended to help schools close the achievement gap between more affluent students and their less advantaged peers. These funds should be utilized to a higher degree on proven means of closing the gap, such as pre-K, before- and after-school programming, and tutoring.

Similarly, the APA report suggests developing a task force to further investigate and address the out-of-school factors that inhibit performance for high-need students. The state should take up this suggestion with an immediate focus on the biggest out-of-school factor inhibiting performance: access to affordable, reliable broadband. While strides have been made, the covid-19 pandemic and the shift to remote learning has exacerbated this issue and increased the urgency to close the digital divide for Arkansas students.

Read the full op-ed via the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.