The Arkansas Opportunity to Learn (OTL) campaign is a coalition of parents, students, educators, policy makers, philanthropic leaders, academic researchers and community leaders working together to build a stronger movement for expanding education opportunities in Arkansas.
Arkansas has made significant progress to improve its education system since the Supreme Court’s 2002 Lake View Decision called for an overhaul of school financing to create equal opportunity for all Arkansas students.
However, major gaps still remain among racial and socioeconomic groups. There are research proven solutions that will start working tomorrow, if the state implements them today. Unfortunately, some Arkansas legislators want to experiment with privatizing public schools, rather than focusing on what we already know works.
The Campaign Priorities Include:
Increase Funding for Quality Pre-K
Early childhood education is the best way to make sure kids get a head start in school and in life. Studies show quality pre-K in Arkansas has had significant positive and longer-term effects on a child’s academic skills and children in pre-K programs are more likely to do better in school, be employed, and become successful members of our communities.
The Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) last received a funding increase in 2008. When funding holds steady and costs go up, quality suffers. We need to continue to invest in pre-K to achieve educational, social and emotional gains. In the 2015 legislative session, pre-K received $3 million in one-time money. This funding cannot be relied on to make the necessary ongoing improvements for quality.
Implement Restorative Justice Policy and Practices
Restorative Justice offers an alternative to change students’ behavior for the long haul. This disciplinary technique asks students to right a wrong, providing an opportunity to learn how their actions affect others, and keeping them in school.
Restorative Justice models offer a way to reach students earlier developmentally to build caring relationships and positive behaviors, as opposed to zero-tolerance policies, which require out-of-school suspension or expulsion for certain inappropriate behaviors. These punishments are often ineffective and distributed unfairly along racial lines.
Good Nutrition Improves Opportunities to Learn
We can improve Arkansas children’s opportunities to learn by ensuring all students have access to good nutrition in and out of school, all year round. Research shows that starting the school day with breakfast improves student attendance, behavior, test scores and graduation rates. The OTL supports the Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign’s goals to increase: the number of children eating breakfast as part of the school day, the number of eligible schools adopting the Community Eligibility Provision allowing all kids to eat school breakfast and lunch free of charge and the number of kids accessing after-school and summer meals programs so students can stay well-nourished and engaged all year long.
Afterschool and Summer Programs are Essential
We need quality afterschool and summer programs to provide a safe, productive environment for children while they are not in school. These programs provide hands-on learning, give struggling students the opportunity to catch up to their peers and are proven to help close achievement gaps.
All children should have equal access to high quality afterschool programs that are adequately funded to provide enriching experiences.
There is ample evidence that quality afterschool and summer programs level the playing field among lower income students and their higher income peers. Recent data shows students who participate have higher test scores; make better course grades, demonstrate improved behavior in school; and have higher attendance rates in school.
Improve Special Education
Quality education for ALL children is critical to the success of our communities. The vast majority of students in Arkansas’ special education program are not meeting educational targets. Students with disabilities are also more likely to be removed from class (suspensions, expulsions, etc). We need to redefine special education to prepare students for success in life and career.
Special education students should be treated equally and given the opportunity to work in the classroom with other students. There should be early identification and assessment of students so they are given the proper help they need before it is too late. We also need to improve documentation of required services, and improve the grievance process for issues raised by parents.
Increase Parent, Student, Community & School Partnerships
A successful school has parents, students, the community, and educators actively working together to ensure great opportunities to learn. These partnerships improve learning for every child and strengthen schools, families and the entire community.
Research shows that when parents are involved, students have higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates; better school attendance; higher self-esteem and increased motivation; lower rates of suspension; decreased use of drugs and alcohol; fewer instances of violent behavior. We need parents and educators working together to ensure every child develops good learning habits both at home and in the classroom.