Republican gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson announced the formation of a “Teachers for Asa” coalition, which identified that one of its efforts would be to find a long-term fix to the public school employees health insurance problem.
“As a product of Arkansas public schools, I understand firsthand the critical role education plays in developing our young people,” Hutchinson said in a Saturday (Aug. 23) press conference on the state capitol steps. “In fact, all four of my children finished their high school education in the Fort Smith public school system, and Susan, my wife of 41 years, has spent a good deal of time in Arkansas public schools as a substitute teacher.”
“Teachers for Asa” is a coalition of teachers, administrators and others who are “invested in the education of our children and who believe that Asa Hutchinson is the best choice, not just for Arkansas, but also for Arkansas’s teachers,” a press statement said.
The coalition will advise Hutchinson on issues of importance to teachers, his campaign said. Those issues included:
• Voicing issues important to teachers;
• Providing input on specific policy concerns;
• Sharing Hutchinson’s plans for education with other teachers and administrators;
• Working to register teachers to vote; and
• Mobilizing supporters to vote.
“Our teachers will help us reach these goals. We are competing for jobs in the global marketplace and these jobs will flow to states best equipped with the skilled workforce and educational system that matches the critical technological training of the modern workplace. Arkansas has the opportunity to be one of these states,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson has touted a plan to expand and provide more emphasis on computer science and coding courses in Arkansas schools. State lawmakers have twice met in a special session in the past year to make changes to a funding shortfall in the public school employees insurance trust fund.
Teachers Kayla Davidson of Jonesboro and Cindy Allen of Fort Smith have been appointed honorary co-chairs for “Teachers for Asa.”
“As a teacher, I know the struggles and opportunities facing educators in this state,” said Davidson. “Arkansas teachers need a leader who will work with us to ensure that teachers health insurance is protected and that we have a voice at the state capitol.”
“The number of hours and the amount of work many teachers put into their students often goes unnoticed, but the challenges they face every day are very real,” added Allen. “Asa Hutchinson is exactly the kind of leader teachers need in Little Rock. He will fight for us and fight for the future of our health care. I am certain his vision for education, especially his plan to put computer science in every Arkansas high school, and the state as a whole is what we need to grow our economy and create jobs.”
Mike Ross has staked part of his candidacy on being the “education governor.” He has touted a plan to expand pre-K access across the state and earlier received the endorsement of the largest teachers’ union in the state, the Arkansas Education Association.
The Democratic Party of Arkansas, which is holding its convention in Little Rock this weekend, responded to Hutchinson’s announcement on Saturday.
“Congressman Hutchinson still hasn’t apologized to Arkansas teachers when he insulted them after seeking their endorsement and not getting it – and he still owes them an apology today,” DPA spokesman Patrick Burgwinkle said.
His comments referenced a statement from a Hutchinson spokesman earlier this year after Ross received the AEA endorsement. At the time, Hutchinson’s press secretary referred to the teachers’ union as a “left-leaning organization” and said its endorsement for Ross was a case of the AEA and its national affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA), putting “their liberal ideals ahead of our kids.” Hutchinson stood by the characterization when asked about it.
Hutchinson also said he wasn’t seeking the AEA endorsement, but merely accepting an invitation to talk to the teachers’ group when he interviewed with them. He said he would accept invitations from other groups he’s not aligned with to discuss policy issues related to the Governor’s race.
“If they invite me to meet with them, then I’m happy to do so,” he said. “I believe in meeting with political adversaries because you learn from them. They’re part of the political operations in Arkansas, so absolutely I’ll meet with them. I just didn’t expect their [AEA] endorsement.”
“Teachers endorsed Mike Ross because he’s running to be the ‘education governor’ and because Congressman Hutchinson has called increasing access to pre-k the ‘wrong direction’ for Arkansas, voted to cut college aid when he was in Congress and even proposed watering down academic standards in Arkansas. Arkansans know they can’t trust Congressman Hutchinson to improve education in order to create good-paying jobs of the future,” the DPA’s Burgwinkle said.