story by Ryan Saylor
Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson at a press conference Monday (Jan. 13) in Springdale announced what is likely to be many policy initiatives proposed by a litany of candidates during the 2014 election cycle.
Hutchinson, the former 3rd District congressman, said his education plan would "make Arkansas a national leader in technology education and job creation," according to a press release.
The former congressman's plan focuses heavily on computer science, with the following key points being a large part of the proposed program:
• Computer science courses will be made available in every high school in Arkansas;
• Computer science courses would count toward core graduation requirements, becoming what his campaign has termed a "fundamental part of standard curriculum"; and
• Enhancing curriculum in two-year and four-year colleges to reinforce technical training in high schools.
As part of the computer science curriculum, students will focus on writing computer software.
"This skill set is in demand not just in the tech sector, but in banking, entertainment, medicine and virtually every area," the release said. "Whether our children want to be farmers, doctors, teachers or entrepreneurs, they will all benefit from the creativity and problem-solving skills that are the essence of creating computer software."
Not only do computer programers earn starting wages of between $15 and $20 per hour, but Hutchinson contended that "successful programers earn well above average, they often become entrepreneurs who create new jobs for many others. From their ideas come companies that employ sometimes thousands of people with a variety of non-programming skills."
The campaign cited a June 2011 study by the McKinsey Global Institute report that estimates a shortage of 1.5 million "data-savvy" managers and analysts by 2018, adding that by 2020 there would be more than 1 million additional jobs in computing.
Hutchinson said the plan would not cost any additional money to initially implement, adding that the requirement for computer education as a high school graduation requirement would only require a change in the law to "give math or science credit for computer science courses."
Enhancing curriculum to add computer programming education would require training teachers in basic computer science, the release said, adding that continuing education is already required of public school districts, which would "limit expenses. Cost related to such training could in many instances be provided for by private funds."
Should private funding not be found, the campaign estimates an expenses of less than $1 million across Arkansas' 350 public high schools.
"This cost will go down further when our own state universities begin offering professional training for teachers," the release said. "This training will be an opportunity for Arkansas colleges and will be less expensive for our own teachers when offered in Arkansas."
Hutchinson's plan also proposes the idea of incentivizing the teaching of computer code, though no specifics were given. Hutchinson said his education plan would provide a good career path for Arkansas students as the state's economy continues to evolve and move toward technology.
"Through encouraging computer science and technology as a meaningful career path, we will produce more graduates prepared for the information-based economy that represents a wide open job market for our young people," he said. "Arkansas will also educate entrepreneurs who create and grow new technology businesses. All Arkansans will benefit from a growth of our technology fueled economy. Computer science will no longer be neglected in the State of Arkansas but it will be embraced."
Not long after the Hutchinson education announcement, Democrats responded with their own press release, attacking Hutchinson's record on education while in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“When it comes to investing in education, Arkansans know Asa Hutchinson can’t be trusted. Hutchinson has argued that Arkansas should ‘water down’ standards for public schools," said Patrick Burgwinkle, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas. "In congress, Hutchinson voted against funding for science education, Pell grants and reducing classroom size. Hutchinson has also admitted that investing in education isn’t a priority for him and that his focus will be on providing tax cuts for the wealthy with any surplus funds."
Hutchinson’s plan also received the expected rebuttal from GOP gubernatorial candidate Curtis Coleman. Coleman said Hutchinson’s plan was “inadequate and out of touch.”
“His proposals inadequately address the need to put ‘shop’ back in high school and more fully tune our community colleges to equipping their graduates with the skills Arkansas employers desperately need,” Coleman noted as part of a statement sent to the media.