LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Education advocates gathered at the capitol Monday to talk about the progress that has been made over the past decade since the state Supreme Court found the public education system was "inadequate" and "unfair".
Educators took turns explaining the progress and improvements still needed. Richard Abernathy said, "We are quickly having the have and have nots when it comes to technology and resources available to our students."
Gloria Majors added, "We need to make sure that our facilities are good and worthwhile of our students."
Ron Harding says, "It is working. Our test scores prove that."
Bill Kopsky says Arkansas is among the fastest improving education systems in the country, but the to-do list is long. "There is low hanging fruit that is within reach today. It is summer and after school programs. It is continuing to improve on our early childhood education preschool programs. It is improving teacher quality. We want more parents, students and community members as partners in the local education system."
Parent and teacher Brenda Robinson is concerned about vouchers and says charter schools need the same scrutiny as public schools. "We want to make sure that even with the charter schools, that we are not leaving any children behind and we need to do what is best for our children in public schools."
110-million dollars is designated every year for pre-k but the amount hasn't been increased in years. Ron Harder says poverty is the biggest education problem and the percentage of students living in poverty is rising. "Your biggest amount of learning takes place birth to 5 years old. So we need to move it back and fund it better because it is a very economically efficient use of funding."
Kopsky says the teacher pay disparity has a bigger gap than it did 10 years ago. For example, depending on where you live, a starting salary can be $29,000 - $43,000.
Kopsky concludes, "We also need to focus and celebrate the success we have. It is pretty remarkable we have the fastest improving education system in the country today. We need to celebrate that and continue to build on that."
Arkansas has the third highest poverty rate in the nation. There are about half a million kids in public school in Arkansas, more than half live in poverty. Funding for programs mentioned has to be decided by lawmakers.