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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Asa Hutchinson promises better workforce training

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 11:34 AM

Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson held a Little Rock news conference today to tout a plan to train people for better jobs. He spoke mostly in generalities but said he can make workforce training more efficient and better coordinated.

Here's the release. . I note that he plans to streamline workforce education by first creating some new bureaucracies, workforce education councils.

David Ramsey was at the press conference and reports:

Hutchinson’s plan is similar in approach to the deal struck by Sen. Jane English and Gov. Mike Beebe during the private option debate. Hutchinson hopes to use existing funds to incentivize effective workforce training programs at 2-year colleges in the state. Hutchinson said his plan aimed to provide a clear means toward that goal, via the Workforce Education Councils. Each council would have about 12 members, culled from industry, educators and economic developers — probably mostly appointed by the governor, though the legislature might get some slots. There would be eight such councils, representing eight regions of the state. (As Max notes above, given that Hutchinson’s chief complaint about existing workforce training programs in the state is that they're too complex, one open question is whether adding this additional layer of bureaucracy would actually make things more streamlined. In terms of cost, Hutchinson said that he believed there were "industry leaders more than willing to devote their time and energy without compensation, even without per diem, for the benefit of these councils.")

The councils would be charged with developing a plan for workforce-training education for each region and then for measuring how well 2-year colleges were performing within that plan. That’s where Hutchinson’s plan has teeth – $34 million a year currently distributed by the Department of Higher Education through formula funding, collected via a tax on corporate income over $100,000 – would be allocated based on how well the schools developed “training programs that are consistent with the guidance of the Workforce Education Councils ... funding will be guided by performance and results.”

Tying that entire pool of money to how effectively 2-year colleges adhere to a coordinated regional workforce training plan and produce measurable results goes a step further than the English deal during the session. It would almost surely create winners and losers in each region (not to mention attaching big stakes to the recommendations from the governor-appointed councils).

At our Festival of Ideas last year, Grant Tennille, the current director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, spoke convincingly and at length on the need for coordination and funding incentives similar to what Hutchinson advocated for today. The state really does need to do a better job of coordinating programs and tracking measurable goals. The tricky part is politics: at least some of the 2-year colleges are likely to use whatever political clout they can muster to fight an incentives program — worthy or not — that could threaten existing funding, or place demands on how that funding was spent. Speaking of which, asked whether the 2-year colleges had enough resources to provide high-quality workforce training, Hutchinson said, "I believe the problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of coordination and the lack of a clear plan, and holding the educators and our trainers accountable." 

UPDATE: The Ross campaign zings the Hutchinson "plan."

"It's ironic that after a career in Washington voting and lobbying against Arkansas's working families, Congressman Hutchinson has finally tried to own up to the problems he helped create. After all, Congressman Hutchinson voted for trade policies that shipped our jobs overseas and lobbied for big corporations that outsourced good-paying jobs to countries like India and the Philippines. Perhaps if Congressman Hutchinson had spent more time here in Arkansas rather than living, working and lobbying in the Washington, D.C., area, he would have recognized the harmful effects of his record much sooner."

Republican opponent Curtis Coleman also zinged:

“I am complimented that Mr. Hutchison would think so much of my education policy, 'The Coleman Education Plan,' released on January 28, 2014, that he would try to dress it in a different set of clothes and call it his own.

"Arkansas has a critical skilled labor shortage inhibiting the growth and prosperity of our economy. Although he’s late coming to this conclusion it is good that my opponent finally recognized the seriousness of this issue.”

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