The Voter ID Dilemma

Last week, Circuit Judge Tim Fox chose to strike down Arkansas’s controversial Voter ID Law that required every voter to produce a state issued photo ID in order to vote. The law stated that if someone showed up to vote without an ID, they would be allowed to vote but would need to produce an ID within a week of the election for the vote to count. However, the law did not have any sort of provision about cases of absentee ballots that were submitted without an ID or a photo copy of the ID. Critics argued that this loophole could lead to countless absentee ballots being tossed out, despite being perfectly legitimate votes. Additionally, there were worries that those who forgot their ID when they voted in person would forget to submit an ID within the seven days following the vote.
These were just the complaints specifically regarding to the Arkansas Law, not even touching on the national claims that Voter ID Laws disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and minorities in any state. Many elderly folks may be unable to produce a valid photo ID if they no longer drive. Even if there were state issued voting cards, some senior citizens would be unable to acquire one without some kind of assistance from either family or friends. The poor would not necessarily drive either, especially in more urban areas. It is also worth mentioning that it could be difficult for lower income individuals to find the time to acquire a voting card if they were available anyways. Since minorities still appear to on average have lower incomes than whites, it is clear that minorities would greatly be impacted by these laws.
Democrats have decried the Arkansas Voter ID Law, along with other similar laws, as an assault on the voting rights of citizens. Some claim that to require a state photo ID would be a form of a poll tax, as some citizens would inherently need to acquire a voter ID card since they would not have any other form of photo ID. Republicans on the other hand claim that these laws will prevent voter fraud on a national level. Since the 2000 Presidential Election, there has been quite a focus on eliminating voter fraud. The 24th Amendment of the Constitution eliminates the practice of poll taxes, and both sides cite the amendment in order to justify their viewpoint. Republicans claim that the state photo ID will not be a tax nor will it be an unnecessary burden financially on any individual. Democrats contend that voter ID cards will be charged with a fee, and that this is a measure that dangerously appears to be a poll tax.
Realistically, the fee for the ID card is pretty small in most states. That being said, charging any amount seems to be a poll tax, even if it is a manageable amount. The principle of paying for an ID to vote is simply unconstitutional. In the case of Arkansas’s Voter ID Law, at least the ID is free of charge. However, as I had stated above, even if the ID is free many voters will face complications to obtain the card. While I sympathize with the fighters of voter fraud who believe that these laws are necessary to truly ensure voter purity, the only way these laws could ever be allowed is if the voter ID cards were free, and issued to every individual in the state. This sounds overwhelming, and would cost thousands of dollars to accomplish the task. When folks would come in to register to vote, the ID would be produced and given to the individual right there in the clerk’s office. This way, everyone would have at least a voter ID card, if not other forms of ID as well.
But the dilemma faced with this solution is the costliness, along with the redundancy of producing massive amounts of these cards for many folks who wouldn’t need them. Additionally, I question the constitutionality of asking for any form of ID to allow someone to vote, so long as their name is on the voter registration list for the precinct. It seems as though so long as people are on the list and registered to vote that there should not be any type of screening at the polls, as it takes up time and already so many skip out on voting due to time constraints. Yet, the debate will not go away, and Democrats need to address how to maneuver through these laws so they don’t appear to be pro voter fraud. Likewise, Republicans need to avoid looking like they are attempting to suppress voting groups that historically have voted Democratic the past few cycles. Intentions pure or not, the fact is that voters will be disenfranchised through the current proposed laws, and the removal of these voters will shift the demographics to a more Republican friendly field.

These aren’t illegal immigrants who will be impacted the most, but we will see senior citizens and low income voters lose their voice in the political system. If the most vulnerable amongst us lose their voice, what would stop lawmakers from going even further? Regardless of ideology, both parties need to work together to find a sensible way to move forward, as these current laws are not allowing democracy to take place. Instead, these laws put a strain on the voting process in a way that will make voting a more exclusive right for only some citizens, not all. To preserve democracy, we must preserve the voice of every individual and the right for every individual to participate in the electoral process. The court decision to strike down the Arkansas Voter ID Law was a step in the right direction, and hopefully will contribute to a national trend to prevent passage of these laws until they ensure not even one American will lose their voice in the democratic process. Being a nation that preaches for free and unfettered elections around the globe, we need to admit our mistakes and begin an evaluation of how free our own elections are. We will see in the coming months if this evaluation takes place, I feel as though it will.

Peter

http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2014/04/24/circuit-judge-tim-fox-strikes-down-voter-id-law 

http://www.dmv.org/ar-arkansas/voter-registration.php 

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Fighting for Violence Control

Sitting around Easter morning, I was perusing the internet and finding many articles, statuses and photos to commemorate family, love, and Christ. Near the end of my search though, I noticed a small link about Colorado. The link was an archived article from Time Magazine, about the Columbine shooting, which happened fifteen years ago on April 20th, 1999. It’s a sobering thought that such a terrible event occurred and it is even more of an awakening to reflect upon how things have changed since that terrible day. The times we live in are very different now from back in the 1990’s.

At the time, it was believed that Columbine would shift the entire debate on Gun Control in the United States, and it clearly has morphed the debate. It has shifted from gun to mental health to life style choices and continuously spins in this cycle, with very little improvement going through. Recently, the debate has been between background checks and mental health, although the issues seem to matter less and less to some folks. What we see now is a debate that simply has the label of “Gun Control”, an arbitrary, misleading label that leads some to infer safety of all citizens, but to others a slippery slope leading to the ultimate goal of abolishing the Second Amendment. To be frank, both of these inferences are distorted at best, but primarily due to the labeling of the debate.

The debate is not solely about guns, it never has been. When all of the rhetoric as faded and people seriously sit down to discuss the issue, the primary goal is reduce the violence in the United States. Guns do attract a lot of attention compared to other weapons, since guns are used much more often in homicides than other weapons, but reducing gun violence is merely a component of the debate. Mental health needs to be another component to address why so many folks decide that the only escape is to harm other people to address their own struggles with life. Evidence also suggests that poverty leads to violence, so how can we help more citizens escape poverty and avoid a life style that could lead to violence. These are not simple issues, but we cannot ignore them because of the politics.

My suspicion is that part of the politics of the debate simply stems from the word “gun” being in the title of the issue. “Gun Control” worries Constitutional advocates who worry that the Second Amendment will be trampled on. While I sympathize with the worry of these advocates, the debate really isn’t supposed to be focused on that issue. It is supposed to be focused on just ensuring a safer environment for all citizens. That is why I propose changing the name of the issue into Violence Control.

With Violence Control, there is no longer a focus on just guns. We can just objectively look at the laws and regulations currently in place and make amendments where there could be some. For instance, regulating ammunition by requiring background checks. Or perhaps banning the sales of all weapons on websites such as Craigslist or Ebay. Both of these proposals are going to impact gun sales, but nothing is being done to bar law abiding citizens from guns, they just need to do it in a safe manner.

Beyond issues of sales loopholes, mental health care needs to be addressed. The Affordable Care Act has expanded mental health care for many low income citizens who are now on Medicaid. This fact as slipped under the radar of the “Gun Control” debate, due to the fact that politically, it would be detrimental the Republican platform since mental health care is an issue that Republicans have claimed Democrats have not worked on. It also would mean that Republicans would need to admit that the ACA did something right. If the issue of Violence Control were being debated, it could help lead to a debate on successfully amending the ACA to expand coverage to even more Americans, reducing the amount of undiagnosed mental illness nationally.

Even the debate of poverty and the violence within poverty stricken communities could be a less contentious debate. Instead of Michael Bloomberg and the NRA investing millions of dollars to convince Congress to stall on “Gun Control”, there should be a more constructive debate where there is a discussion on investing in communities, improving schools, and helping low income families succeed in the United States. This is a completely different debate being discussed in the nation right now, but we could allocate more time towards this debate and add an additional talking point to it by adding Violence Control into it. If we can help folks out of poverty, offer students an education that can help them move up in the world, and increase an emphasis on community, we can reduce violence.

The politics of Gun Control has left a bitter debate that appears to just leave everyone angry and misinformed. Fifteen years since Columbine, and still we are struggling to prevent violence in this country. While the United States is an outstanding country, we are hardly better than developing nations in stopping the domestic violence in our communities. Let’s scrap away with the Gun Control debate, leaving it to the extremists who really don’t care about making citizens safer, but instead wanting to just be right. Together, we can take things in a new direction, debating Violence Control, and hopefully make progress to ensure the next generation won’t have to deal with their own version of Columbine. This isn’t a political issue, this is an American issue, and we each have the responsibility to reduce violence in this country. Be thankful for what you have, and be sure to help others.

Happy Easter,
Peter
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide/expanded_homicide_data_table_8_murder_victims_by_weapon_2008-2012.xls 

http://time.com/68784/columbine-15th-anniversary/ 

How Sebelius’s Departure Means a New Chapter for Obamacare

Just a few days ago, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced her plans to resign from her post. President Obama gave her accolades, Congressional Republicans cheered for her departure and many Americans paused with one question in their head “What happens next?”

Primarily recognized for her role of being the executive in charge of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Sebelius had been in the realm of scrutiny during the tumultuous process of implementing the law. The law began on the wrong foot, with Congressional Republicans decrying the bill as unconstitutional, despite the fact that some of their caucus voted for the bill in the Senate. From there, the bill faced a court challenge, which eventually was resolved when the Supreme Court deemed that most of the law was indeed Constitutional. Fast forward to October of 2013 and the public eye shifted to Sebelius and the failure of the Healthcare.gov website. Many criticized Sebelius’s lack of oversight, and many called for her resignation. As we are learning from some new reports, it appears that she intended to resign following the website debacle. Yet, President Obama asked her to stay on. My only hunch is that it would be even worse had a change in personnel occurred midway through the rollout of open enrollment. 

As enrollment numbers slowly crawled up, critics began to declare preemptively that the law had failed and the calls for Sebelius’s resignation grew louder and more numerous. Skepticism amongst Democrats grew, as the goal of 7 million enrollees appeared to be out of reach. Some were hoping for 6 million, others were anticipating less than that. Even at the end of February, there were barely over 4 million enrollees through the exchanges. At the end of March though, critics and proponents of the law alike were stunned to see the final number of enrollees be 7.1 million. A sigh of relief hit the Administration as they realized that the law was able to sustain its massive health care exchange, and that the law would most likely avoid repeal. But as we turn the page and begin the new chapter of the Affordable Care Act, Sebelius will no longer be the center of attention. Here’s what this means for the law:

1. The law has survived- Sebelius was unpopular amongst all of the Republican Congressional Caucus, indicating any sort of reform to the law to be dead on arrival. With the departure of Sebelius, it is difficult for Republicans to base their argument solely on her job performance. Perhaps, on the recommendation of Sylvia Mathews Burwell (Sebelius’s successor), reforms can be made to the law instead of simply arguing for repeal or no repeal.

2. The law can be fixed- As I had eluded to above, Sebelius’s recommendations were disregarded almost immediately, without much analysis of the ideas. The law’s debate is shifting from repeal to reform, and now we will see both sides propose legislation to amend the law in order to address some of the anomalies in the law. A poll from the Kaiser foundation in March indicated that a majority of Americans support keeping the law and making changes to it.

3. The 2014 Map has changed- The GOP planned to only discuss the failures of the ACA for their strategy this election season. But now Sebelius is gone, and the law appears to be doing well. Democrats have already announced their plans to seek legislation to reform the law. If Republicans only tout the awful website rollout, which has since been fixed, and blame an individual who has resigned, the public may not be persuaded to vote Republican in 2014. In fact, if current trends continue, the GOP could become the “Party of No” once more, rejecting any amendment to the law offered by Democrats.

Sebelius had her ups and downs as Secretary of HHS. She was a moderate Democrat who was viewed favorably by both parties when initially nominated. Additionally, she was able to take the criticism of everyone who was opposed to the law. While there were times she was unruly, and sometimes disorganized, it would be fair to say she never dropped the ball and avoided all of the blame. But as a whole, she is politically toxic. Reform couldn’t be done, and her clout on the Hill is basically nonexistent.  Her resignation indicates an awareness of this fact, coupled with a chaotic rollout of comprehensive healthcare reform. Now that Ms. Sebelius has moved on, reform of the law can take place. The law will face challenges ahead, but what is clear is that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and will be taking a new, hopefully less chaotic path than the one previously traveled. 

Peter

http://kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-march-2014/?utm_campaign=Polling/Surveys&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=4496581

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/13/obamacare-timelineflatoutwrongsebelius.html

http://www.vox.com/2014/4/10/5602670/kathleen-sebelius-is-resigning-because-obamacare-has-won

It’s National Unequal Pay Day, ya’ll

                 51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law as part of his New Frontier Program. The law states that “no employer shall discriminate between employees on the basis of sex.” More than half a century later, women are leaning in more and more each day: we make up nearly half of the workforce and are primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households with children under the age of 18, according to research by Pew Research Center.[1] However, women still make only 77 cents for every man’s dollar (and even less for women of color). This pay gap will cost a woman at least $400,000 over the course of her career. [2] Hence, it was disappointing to see Senate Republicans block the Paycheck Fairness Act this morning, just one day after President Obama signed an executive order to address the federal government’s gender wage gap. Thanks to 42 Republicans who voted against the bill this morning, April 9th has officially become National Unequal Pay Day for me.

                April 8th 2014 is National Equal Pay Day because it marks the number of extra days into 2014 that the average working woman has to work to earn as much as her male colleague did in 2013. That’s 94 days, or 752 hours (with a typical 9-5 working day)! Without further action, the gender pay gap won’t close until 2058, when most millennials will be already retired (some more comfortably and securely than others).

                We need this bill to pass. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voting no (a procedural move), he can re-introduce the bill on the Senate floor. Senate Republicans have argued that there are two other laws that already work on closing gender wage gap, in addition to the Lilly Ledbetter Act. If that’s true, why then haven’t we seen any progress? While the Equal Pay Act already made pay discrimination illegal and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act expands women’s options for fighting employers’ sex discrimination, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect salary information for employers and protect employees from retaliation from employers for inquiring or disclosing their wage in a complaint or investigation.

                The Paycheck Fairness Act has now failed three times. It’s time for our legislators to vote with their consciences instead of voting along the party lines. If the 43 Republican Senators who voted no and the 3 other Republicans who did vote truly care about women’s advancement and equal justice, they should vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act.

 

[1] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/29/breadwinner-moms/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-hallman/7-things-to-know-this-equ_b_5093564.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

Speech or Power – The Money Dilemma

Money is not speech. That much is universally accepted and echoed among activists who abhor both the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings. But the analysis has to go deeper than that. There was an example used once by a conservative commentator who defended Citizens United that recalled the days of the civil rights movements by pointing out how certain jurisdictions, notably within the South, would have tried to prevent the movement from going forward by monitoring or tracking donors to organizations like the NAACP. He then went on to make the, admittedly easy, intellectual leap and say that this means we can’t regulate campaign contributions. Does it though?

I don’t have any idea whether that commentator’s example was even true but I’m willing to speculate that donors to the NAACP and similar organizations probably were put under some sort of pressure and its certainly true that  the FBI did monitor the Civil Rights Movement more broadly because of their communism paranoia.  Why then can we still not call donations speech? 

The thing about legality is that definitions differ based on context, intended purpose, and intrinsic conceptions of what is right and what isn’t. Anyone looking through important Supreme Court cases knows that the Court considers far more than just the texts of laws that they review. For proof, I refer you to Justice Potter Stewart’s comment on porn, “I know it when I see it.” Furthermore, even if there is a right, it is never unlimited and never should be as Justice Holmes’ example of shouting “FIRE” in a crowded theater aptly points out. 

These two suppositions allow us to say the following. Restricting the act of donating (notice I say the act of donating, not the amount) to a particular political candidate, organization, etc. is a violation of free speech because the government is  specifically targeting the ability of individuals to express preferences for a certain side over the other. It is not only restricting speech in a certain direction, but it is trespassing on obvious intrinsic limitations on government set forward by the Constitution. 

But that’s not exactly what campaign donation limitations do. They are broad based bans that affect donations to every single candidate, party, or cause (PACs). Who an individual chooses to donate to is not affected. They can donate to whatever person or party their heart desires but are limited in terms of how much they donate overall. Notice here that the act of donation is  not affected; speech isn’t touched. The dollar amounts of the donation are affected and they affect each individual equally regardless of circumstance. 

With the dollar amounts, we’ve entered into the realm of power. It is intuitively understood that the more a person or organization donates, the more voice they will have with the politician seeking those donations since that politician’s continued employment likely depends on his or her ability to campaign. If campaigns can be bolstered, even a little bit, by cash infusions, that will go the extra mile in a political environment constantly running tight races every two years. Examples of this kind of thing come from across the political spectrum. Conservatives tear into labor unions for influencing Democratic politicians while Liberals lacerate big donors like the Koch Brothers or Insurance Companies. This is why the majority opinion of Citizens United was so befuddling when it openly failed to see how donations could ever influence a politician in one direction or another. It flies in the face of common sense.

Donor money, particularly if given in large amounts by single entities or persons slowly transforms from becoming a statement of support (speech) to becoming an institutionalized form of bribery (an exchange of favors) where the expectation is that certain forms of policy will be supported by the politician receiving the donation (thereby theoretically helping along their employment prospects). Just last week, several big name Republican contenders for 2016 visited with Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas. He kept Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign afloat, donated gobs to Mitt Romney, and will be essential in funding whoever steps forward next time around. He has stated expectations that politicians be vocal in their support of Israel and that is reported to be one of the first things he asks potential surrogates.

Even if policies on the margin are altered to comply with donor wishes, expectations, or even interests, marginal additions add up to cause big changes in overall policy. Think of American environmental policy falling prey to climate deniers or health care reform being loaded down with giveaways to Insurance companies. These don’t just appear out of the good hearts (*cough*)  these politicians have. Following the money never seemed like such an appropriate term. 

What campaign contribution limits appear to be, under this analysis, are an exchange of favors. These favors can be limited by capping them to smaller amounts and ensuring that one person’s vast fortunate does not drown out the ability of a poorer person to be heard. In a sense, they protect speech. 

Admittedly, my analysis is basic in character. It leaves open questions over the universality of contribution caps, differentiating between people and institutions, how much the donation caps need to be, public financing of elections, etc. Important as those questions may be, they were not my primary aim. It was to preserve the idea that government regulation of campaign donations should not be viewed as a violation of free speech but rather a key bulwark against institutional corruption. 

I think it’s appropriate to end with this final point. Even Shawn McCutcheon’s own lawyer eventually conceded in an interview with the Huffington Post that money isn’t speech. But he still argued throughout the case that overall contribution caps were still preventing an exercise of speech. By doing what exactly? It seems Mr. Backer, the lawyer in question, doesn’t seem to understand the implication his argument implies; either that or he doesn’t want to. 

Till next time,

Chirag

The Interview Article in Question: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/07/mccutcheon-money-speech_n_5105601.html 

Mississippi Just Became a Little Worse

 In the past few days, Governor Phil Bryant (R-MS) signed two measures in order to preserve religious freedom in Mississippi. The first of the two bills is a bill intended to preserve the religious rights of students in the state at all levels of education. The second, broader bill, states that “State action shall not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.” In other words, this bill can open the door to discrimination of gays and lesbians throughout the state. Both laws have set off a storm of controversy, and they both, while well intentioned, are bad for the state of Mississippi and religious freedom in the United States.

            The first bill, preserving the religious rights of students, is unnecessary. Students already have protection to express their religious opinions in the classroom setting, so long as they do not discriminate against other students based on religion. The passing of the law is more symbolic than substance. The issue I is it perpetuates the idea that America is a culture where religion is banned from the realm of public schools. The Supreme Court simply asks for schools not to sponsor religious practices, but any students within the school may do so if he or she desires. The bill doesn’t expand the rights of students, since everything in the bill has been protected under the First Amendment. The concern people should have with this bill is that a legislature felt threatened enough to pass it, despite the proposal not really contributing much to the cause. The bill doesn’t solve anything, and tax payer dollars were wasted to draft the legislation and time was wasted for the legislature to vote on it.

            If the second bill only wasted time and money, I would say the bills were equally trivial. However, SB2681 sets a dangerous precedent for Mississippi. The bill is intended to be a pre-emptive response to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case regarding whether employers must offer contraception coverage in their health care plans, but it has a more disconcerting side. The bill could allow business owners to discriminate against people simply for being homosexual. While I understand that many religious sects do no approve of gay marriage, to withhold a good or service to a category of people does not equate to opposing gay marriage, it is discrimination. It is also unconstitutional.

            Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many businesses resisted to integration of their establishments. Ollie McClung, a restaurant owner in Birmingham, was one of many individuals who refused to integrate. The famous case of Katzenbach v. McClung, decided in late 1964, stated that Congress had acted within its right to ban discrimination by race in restaurants, in order to protect interstate commerce. The idea was that Mr. McClung may have had a restaurant in Alabama, but his suppliers worked outside of the state, and his discrimination would hurt his suppliers, potentially hurting other businesses from other states. Now, imagine for a minute that a fine dining establishment in Jackson decided to deny a gay couple from having an anniversary dinner at their restaurant on the basis of the religious belief that homosexuality is a sin. Both cases involve restaurants, an antagonist with strong beliefs, and individuals being discriminated against on the basis of characteristics the individuals were born with. If the law remains, it will eventually reach the Supreme Court, and based on the precedent of Katzenbach v McClung, SB2681 will be struck down as unconstitutional.

            Beyond the implications that this bill has for homosexuals in Mississippi, the law paints an awful image on a state which has struggled with image issues for decades. Mississippi is consistently rated one of the worst states to live in, having high poverty and obesity rates, low literacy rates and a history still struggling with discrimination. The passage of this bill seems to be another chapter in the history of discrimination. Already lacking a complex economy, Mississippi could potentially miss out on countless economic expansions, due to businesses being wary of investing in a state with such bizarre laws. As seen in Arizona, the business opposition to the religious freedom bills was a crucial part of the decision to veto made by Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ). Apparently economic expansion doesn’t matter to Governor Bryant, however, since he chose to sign these two bills, which will put national franchises in the spotlight of whether they support these legislative measures. Based on what we have seen with Mozilla recently, it wouldn’t be a far stretch to anticipate boycotts of other national companies if they have business stationed in Mississippi. Additionally, one can only imagine what companies will do now if they originally planned to expand into Mississippi, especially if the economy of Mississippi is about to shrink. The economy will indeed shrink, due to limited options as a result of limiting freedom of choice in the market place.

            Ironically, despite having freedom in their texts, neither bills actually expand freedom to individuals in the state of Mississippi. Instead, we see freedom being taken away from individuals. Mississippi already has a horrid legacy of discrimination against fellow Americans, and it appears some groups wish to legalize discrimination to groups for reasons beyond race. Mississippi already struggles with these perceptions and realities, and these bills will just set them back a little more. As much as I hate to say it, Mississippi just became a little worse.

Thank you,

Peter

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mississippi-governor-signs-controversial-religious-practices-bill/

http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2014/pdf/history/SB/SB2681.xml

http://legiscan.com/MS/text/SB2633/id/706552

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/379/294

A Closer Look at Mike Ross’ Education Plan

I am a firm believer that a strong democracy cannot exist without a strong public engagement. So what’s a better place to start than following your state’s election? I am particularly interested in the 2014 gubernatorial election because we need another progressive Governor (thank you, Governor Beebe, for vetoing the 20-week abortion ban bill!) in the increasingly conservative state of Arkansas. It’s going to be a tight race to the Governor’s mansion in November.

Best,

Jill

Mike Ross, the Democratic candidate for Governor of Arkansas, unveiled his plan for early childhood education yesterday at Fair Park Early Childhood Center. Ross will likely snag the Democratic nomination for the job in the primary, facing likely Republican nominee Asa Hutchinson in November. According to the most recent poll, released last month by OnMessage Inc , Hutchinson is leading at 44%, with Ross at 36%.

With his new education plan, Ross aims to provide universal access to high-quality pre-k for all 4-year-olds in AR by 2025.  Costing an extra $37.4 million to the current budget of $102.5 million, Ross plans to expand Arkansas Better Chance (ABC), a state-funded pre-k program for low income family, through a sliding fee scale based on household income. With the plan, nearly two-thirds of all 4-year-olds in AR will have access to quality pre-k education by 2025: free for kids from families below 300% federal poverty line, and at full price for kids from families above 400% federal poverty line.

ABC is not the only public pre-k program for low income families in Arkansas. Together with Head Start, a federally funded program offering pre k education, health, nutrition services and support for families below poverty line, the two programs reach 37% eligible 3-year-olds and 80% of eligible 4-year-old. While Head Start has suffered from a 5.27% budget cut in 2013, ABC’s budget has been stagnant since 2008. Arkansas is one of the few states where pre-k budget hasn’t been cut.

Studies have shown that for every $1 invested in pre-k education, there is a $10 return on investment. Investing in pre-k education can help shrink the education gap between children from low income families and others. A study by the National Institution for Early Education (NIEER) has found that children who attended ABC show improved score in vocabulary and math in second grade, and in literacy through the third grade.  In a national report, the NIEER ranks Arkansas at 11th in access for 4-year-olds, 5th in access for 3-year-olds, and 10th nationally in state spending per child.

It’s definitely a good move by Mike Ross campaign to release this education plan before the primary next month to sway the undecided voter, especially when the other candidate for the Democratic nomination, Dr. Lynette Bryant, has worked as a substitute teacher and is an education activist. However, his plan lacks clarification on where the extra $37.4 million is coming from. The conservative PAC Americans for Prosperity and Hutchinson have accused Ross of “overpromising” and “irresponsible”, citing the difficulty to fund the current ABC program. This is indeed my concern as well, as Ross has promised a $575 million state income tax cut and a $40 million tax cut for manufacturers’ machinery reparation earlier in the campaign.

On the other hand, the education plan fails to address the access gap between 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. The plan would guarantee ABC slots for all 4-year-olds, but there would be more than ten thousand low-income 3 year-olds on the waiting list. “No child should ever be on a waiting list for pre-k in Arkansas”, said Ross at the press conference. However, only 2 percent of eligible low-income infants and toddlers are covered by Early HeadStart (federally funded program for 2 year-olds) and ABC programs. The plan doesn’t address any solution to this huge gap.

I totally believe that investing in pre-k education is a good place to start closing the achievement gap between children from low income families and others, but not when we don’t know where the money is coming from. Maybe voters will be more convinced when his campaign can release studies to back up the claim that this investment will reduce the number of Arkansans in prisons or living on welfare. If Mike Ross is elected as the 46th Governor of Arkansas, maybe he should first spend the first $3.83 million to adjust the cost of the program ensure quality for over 15,000 enrolled children.