By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson brought his insurgent campaign to Hope last Friday, and stopped along the way at downtown Hope’s Tailgater’s restaurant, speaking with late lunchtime diners about the race.
Henderson spent a good deal of time touting, “As governor, I want the best teachers for every child, make it easier to start a small business and improve rural health care,” as he made his way from table to table making his case against incumbent GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Henderson’s campaign currently labors against the backdrop of record unemployment numbers and an economy that appears to be still experiencing a boom, but Henderson said “There are a couple of things we need to understand; one is that these economic and job gains are highly concentrated in a few areas in Arkansas, and not shared throughout our state, including southern Arkansas.”
He continued, saying “And two, if you look at the jobs that are out there, it’s less full-time employment with full-time benefits and more contract work with less stability.”
In response to recent public statements from GOP stalwarts like Hutchinson and Fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman about shortages of “skilled workers,” Henderson said “I can agree that there exists a ‘skills gap,’ but we need to create adequate and feasible systems that allow people to train and gain these new skills, and then successfully transition them to the workforce.”
For Henderson, a good deal of the solutions that he sees for issues in Arkansas begin and end with public education. Of course, Henderson has a particular affinity for education as he has served as director of the Teacher for America program in the state, which has dispatched student teachers to school systems in some of the poorest areas of south Arkansas like the Delta region.
“Without investing in our teachers, Arkansas’s public schools will continue to be toward the bottom of every national ranking. Our teachers have been underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated for too long,” he said.
Parts of southwestern Arkansas are not that dissimilar in terms of poverty, drop-outs, and lack of jobs, and Henderson still believes that education is the key to many of the state’s woes.
“In education, we have so many issues, such as adequacy and funding. There are a variety of debates we can have, but to me, the central issue that should be our main focus is how we recruit and retain great people to be educators.”
“I’ve been working in education for the past decade, and every year it gets harder and harder for our schools to find and keep qualified teachers,” he said.
Henderson has proposed 10-percent increase for minimum teacher salaries and a 3.6-percent increase for the following nine years.
“The first two years of my plan could be paid for by the Governor’s $180 million tax cut for the state’s top earners. I believe that investing in our teachers should not be a matter of feasibility but a top priority.”