Category Archives: State government

Democrats find their candidate

By Steve Brawner

© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

If you’re an Arkansas Democrat, the glass-half-empty perspective is that your candidate for governor apparently is going to be Jared Henderson, a 39-year-old political newcomer you’ve probably never heard of. That’s also the glass-half-full perspective.

It’s a glass half empty because you’d prefer someone well-known, well-liked, with money, and with a history of winning statewide races in this new political environment.

But that person’s name is Mike Beebe, and he’s term-limited. And so it’s a glass half full because the party must develop fresh faces, and the 2018 governor’s race is as good a place to start as any. Continue reading Democrats find their candidate

She can tell her kids’ stories

Randi House
Conway kindergarten teacher Randi House, the 2018 Teacher of the Year, right, is embraced by Courtney Cochran, a Spanish teacher from Van Buren who is the current Teacher of the Year. In the background is Kathy Powers, an English/language arts teacher at Conway and the 2011 recipient of the award.

The selection of the Arkansas Teacher of the Year is supposed to be a surprise, but Randi House, a kindergarten teacher at Conway’s Theodore Jones Elementary School, was already wiping away tears before her name was called.

House earlier had been named one of four semifinalists, so she knew she was in the running for the award. On Sept. 29, she was standing against the wall during a “school assembly” as the children sat on the floor listening to a reading. That’s when she saw Education Commissioner Johnny Key, other officials, her family, and news reporters file into the room.

House received a $14,000 check from the Walton Family Foundation. In February, she’ll train with other Teachers of the Year in California. And then July 1, she’ll leave the classroom for a year and travel the state promoting the profession, visiting with other teachers and learning new techniques. She’ll also be a nonvoting member of the Arkansas State Board of Education.

A shortage of teachers and future teachers

Hopefully she’ll be able to help reverse a trend that has policymakers concerned – a teacher shortage accompanied by a falling number of students studying to be teachers in Arkansas. Over a five-year period, enrollees in first-time teacher licensure programs dropped by more than half. In 2011-12, 7,758 candidates were enrolled in such programs. In 2015-16, it was 3,737.

Continue reading She can tell her kids’ stories

To give or not to give to the guy on the street

This is the part of the calendar – Christmas and the new year’s start – when people try to become better versions of themselves. So what does the better version of yourself do when you pass a person on the street holding a “Hungry and homeless” sign?

There’s not always an easy answer. Begging should not be encouraged. Some panhandlers could find gainful employment if they tried, and some will spend your spare change on booze or drugs. But what about those who wouldn’t? To dismiss every needy person as undeserving of help – that’s a moral shortcut. Sometimes people are down on their luck, or they’re mentally unhealthy, or, for whatever reason, they are suffering from their mistakes more than we are for ours. Many homeless people are veterans.

You can’t know who is whom when waiting at a traffic light. Do you withhold from five who need your help to avoid giving to five you shouldn’t help? OK, what if the ratio is 3:7? Is our better version a cheerful giver, or too smart to be suckered? And didn’t Jesus say something about “the least of these”? Continue reading To give or not to give to the guy on the street

The next University of Arkansas athletic director? Put it on the Fitz

Fitz HillI don’t know who the next Razorback football coach should be, but Dr. Fitz Hill should be the University of Arkansas’ next athletic director.

Hill until last year served as president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. The historically black school, founded in 1884, was in a death spiral when Hill arrived there in February 2006. Its student body had dropped to less than 200. Its facilities were in disrepair, and its centerpiece, Old Main, was a decaying hunk of brick and mortar. It was only a matter of time before the school closed its doors.

That’s when Hill showed the difference one man with a vision, a dream and a lot of passion can make. He determined that ABC would be the college for students other colleges rejected. He recruited people off the street, offering them a chance for an education and redemption. The college’s enrollment grew well past 1,000. He inspired the support of heavy hitters such as former Alltel CEO Scott Ford while taking advantage of the government’s New Markets Tax Credit Program. As a result, Old Main was completely refurbished, and many other improvements were made on campus. Finally, Hill made ABC’s mission about much more than just granting degrees. The school housed a program for prison inmates, offered a GED program, and took over a crime-infested car wash down the street, using the proceeds to purchase nearby rundown homes.

Truly, ABC became not just a college, but an opportunity center. He simply would not accept that some people are fated to fail.  Continue reading The next University of Arkansas athletic director? Put it on the Fitz