Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his campaign for governor that “we need to expand pre-k” and said the state should aim for a gradual increase of pre-k funding.
His party, however, struck all mention of support for pre-k access from the party platform over the weekend. The move was reportedly made because Republican delegates expressed fear of the possibility of mandatory pre-k, like mandatory kindergarten.
I asked the governor for his response to the party’s decision to strike all support for pre-k from the platform and he provided the following statement:
Last Saturday, delegates of the state party voted to remove a provision in the platform which was confusing and unclear on its intent on pre-K funding. This action does not affect the historical bi-partisan support of Pre-K funding.
Prior to last year, Pre-K funding in the state had not seen an increase in funding since the program’s inception in 2003. My first year in office, we appropriated $3M in new funds for Pre-K and additional funding was secured from federal sources. Arkansas currently ranks 12th in the nation in terms of percent of 4 year old children in state funded pre-k.
As governor, I will work with the legislature to determine what additional funding should go to Pre-k, and my priority is targeting resources to those families at or below 200% of the poverty level.
A little bit of context on that $3 million. While an important first step, as Arkansas Advocates put it, that one-time money “falls far short of the $16 million increase in annual state funding that ABC needs to make the program whole again after going without a dime of new money for eight years.”
House Minority Leader Michael John Gray tried to increase annual pre-k funding by $10 million during the 2016 fiscal session only to be rebuffed by the Hutchinson administration and Republicans in the legislature.
“I am hopeful that as the governor continues to look at the data, he’ll see that this is about the future of Arkansas, and that we make a long-term commitment to the future of the children and not just one-time money,” Gray said. “I’m encouraged by conversations I’ve had with him. However, we went down to the last day of the fiscal session trying for any kind of pre-k increase in conversations with the governor’s office and none of it materialized.”
Gray expressed skepticism about Hutchinson’s defense of the removal of the pre-k provision in the party platform. “With all due respect to the governor, if it was confusing, why wasn’t there an effort to clear up the confusion?” he asked. “Why would they pull all support for pre-k from the platform? That’s a statement of values by the Republican party.”