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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mike Ross campaign accuses Asa Hutchinson of hypocrisy on pre-k

Posted By on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 10:25 AM

click to enlarge Mike Ross reads to kids at  Fair Park Early Childhood Center after announcing his pre-k plan last week.
  • Mike Ross reads to kids at Fair Park Early Childhood Center after announcing his pre-k plan last week.

The Mike Ross campaign highlights a recent Asa Hutchinson interview in which he appears to endorse a gradual state spending increase for pre-k, even though earlier this month Hutchinson called Ross's pre-k plan "irresponsible" and a "classic example of over-promising in an election year."

The Ross plan would gradually increase spending with the goal of eventually offering universal access to pre-k to all 4-year-olds in Arkansas by 2025, with the price tag $37.5 million per year once fully implemented (most of the spending is geared toward expanding access to 4-year-olds, but $3.8 million per year is devoted to meeting the needs of the existing Arkansas Better Chance program, which has been flat-funded since 2008). 

“I support efforts to increase funding for our existing pre-K program, but the Ross-Burkhalter plan to expand Pre-K to families making up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level is a classic example of over-promising in an election year and it is irresponsible," Hutchinson said in a statement provided to Talk Business on April 2. 

Meanwhile, in a March 24 Office of Education Policy interview, Hutchinson said: 

Well early start in education is important, and many parents start their children in learning pre-k in the home environment and that’s probably ideal. Motivated parents helping their children, being ready for school, day one. But there’s sadly some home environments that do not have that parental support. Both parents are working, and so there is a need for, in some environments, particularly the poverty area of our state, for increased support for pre-k education – having that child ready to learn… One, it’s something I believe is important. Secondly, we need to continue to fund in those high poverty areas access to pre-k education. As to how much we put in there, I think that it will cost, I believe it’s $40-50 million dollars more to fully fund the pre-k education up to 200% of poverty for those parents that are in that category, for the schools that are in that category, so it is an expensive proposition and I think we just need to gradually increase our budget so that we can start meeting those needs.

Ross spokesperson Brad Howard pounces: 

Arkansans are used to Congressman Hutchinson saying one thing in Washington, and doing another in Arkansas, so it’s no surprise to anyone that Congressman Hutchinson is praising more investments in pre-k one day and attacking the idea as ‘irresponsible’ just nine days later. Does Asa Hutchinson support pre-kindergarten education in Arkansas or not? If so, how much is he willing to increase support for pre-k as governor?

Congressman Hutchinson’s double-speak skills may have helped him succeed as a lawyer and a lobbyist, but they aren’t what Arkansans want in their next governor.

In fairness to Hutchinson, it sounds like he is kinda, sorta advocating for a gradual increase in funding for the existing ABC program, which serves children below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (the Ross plan would offer ABC free of charge to kids up to 300 percent of FPL and half-price for kids up to 400). And the existing ABC program really does need more money — the state has a big gap in terms of reaching infants, toddlers, and 3-year-olds, the kids most likely to show long-term gains from high-quality pre-k — plus, after years of flat funding, the existing ABC program may have to make tough choices about cutting slots for kids. Ross's plan is a good start and is probably the most politically feasible way forward, but as a matter of policy priorities, I think the case is pretty strong for focusing on access to low-income, younger children.

That's if there's any funding at all...and that's where I'm skeptical of Hutchinson's vague hand-waving above. I think what we're mostly seeing here is Hutchinson's fence-straddling, avoiding taking clear unpopular stances while also making sure not to piss off his base. So we get Hutchinson saying he supports a minimum wage increase but for some reason doesn't want it to happen by ballot initiative (where it would likely pass) but via the legislature (where it would likely fail). We get Hutchinson saying the private option is the law (duh!) but declining to state what his actual position on the policy was. Now we have Hutchinson saying he supports pre-k, but the first mention of a policy to provide pre-k with funding gets called "irresponsible."

Full press release from the Ross Camp below the jump. 
 
Before & After: Asa Hutchinson on Pre-K 
Where Exactly Does Asa Hutchinson Stand on Pre-Kindergarten Education?


LITTLE ROCK – On April 2, 2014, Mike Ross announced the first component of his “Start Sooner, Finish Stronger” education plan for Arkansas’s future.

From Mike Ross’ Plan: Mike Ross’ pre-kindergarten education plan will first meet our current needs and then will gradually increase investments in pre-kindergarten education until it is accessible to every 4-year-old in Arkansas by 2025. Investments will gradually increase with state revenue growth and in a fiscally responsible way that maintains our balanced budget. This pre-k plan will require a total investment from the state of Arkansas of about $37.48 million a year when fully implemented.

Congressman Asa Hutchinson called the plan “irresponsible” and said it’s a “classic example of over-promising in an election year.” However, just nine days before that, Congressman Hutchinson said in an interview with the University of Arkansas’s Office of Education Policy that pre-kindergarten is important and that the state of Arkansas should “gradually increase our budget” by “$40 - $50 million more” to meet our pre-kindergarten needs.

Statement from Brad Howard, Mike Ross for Governor Spokesperson:

“Arkansans are used to Congressman Hutchinson saying one thing in Washington, and doing another in Arkansas, so it’s no surprise to anyone that Congressman Hutchinson is praising more investments in pre-k one day and attacking the idea as ‘irresponsible’ just nine days later. Does Asa Hutchinson support pre-kindergarten education in Arkansas or not? If so, how much is he willing to increase support for pre-k as governor?

“Congressman Hutchinson’s double-speak skills may have helped him succeed as a lawyer and a lobbyist, but they aren’t what Arkansans want in their next governor.”

- BACKGROUND -

BEFORE: Congressman Hutchinson on pre-k nine days BEFORE Ross’ pre-k announcement:

March 24, 2014, Office of Education Policy Interview:

Asa Hutchinson: “Well early start in education is important, and many parents start their children in learning pre-k in the home environment and that’s probably ideal. Motivated parents helping their children, being ready for school, day one. But there’s sadly some home environments that do not have that parental support. Both parents are working, and so there is a need for, in some environments, particularly the poverty area of our state, for increased support for pre-k education – having that child ready to learn… One, it’s something I believe is important. Secondly, we need to continue to fund in those high poverty areas access to pre-k education. As to how much we put in there, I think that it will cost, I believe it’s $40-50 million dollars more to fully fund the pre-k education up to 200% of poverty for those parents that are in that category, for the schools that are in that category, so it is an expensive proposition and I think we just need to gradually increase our budget so that we can start meeting those needs.”

VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dngO7SAaeI&feature=share&t=8m40s

AFTER: Congressman Hutchinson on pre-k AFTER Ross’ pre-k announcement:

April 2, 2014, Talk Business article:

Asa Hutchinson: “I support efforts to increase funding for our existing Pre-K program, but the Ross-Burkhalter plan to expand Pre-K to families making up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level is a classic example of over-promising in an election year and it is irresponsible.

“Gov. Beebe has not been able to fully fund the current program and we should not be promising a bigger government program when we haven’t met our current needs. Politicians in Washington, D.C. make promises to spend money without explaining how they’ll pay for it. That is how Washington creates a deficit but it is not how Arkansas should manage its budget. A serious candidate for governor will not make spending increases without telling us where the money will come from.”

- See more at: http://talkbusiness.net/2014/04/ross-proposes-expansion-pre-k-program-four-year-olds/#sthash.k1FoyQNf.dpuf

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