The importance of high-quality pre-K education was addressed during a legislative visit and panel discussion held at Henderson State University Friday morning.

The importance of high-quality pre-K education was addressed during a legislative visit and panel discussion held at Henderson State University Friday morning.
According to Dr. Brett Powell, vice president for finance and administration at Henderson State University, the university’s Davis-Baker Preschool is one of the many examples of the institution’s investments in pre-K education.
Powell listed several reasons why the preschool has been in existence for many years.
“One, is just the importance of early childhood education. Also, it is an opportunity for our students coming through our teacher education program here to have an opportunity to observe and participate in teaching three and four-year-old children as they come through here,” said Powell.
In addition, Powell said any investment in education is an investment in the future of the State of Arkansas.
“Whether you are talking about an investment in three and four-year-olds or an investment in post secondary education, it is all about having an Arkansas citizen that is prepared for the workforce,” Powell.
According to Powell, investments in the workforce starts as young as three-year-olds.
“The more investment we can make in education, the more we are investing in the future of Arkansas. We are supportive of any efforts to improve education in Arkansas,” Powell said.
Although the need for pre-K education is great, state investments have been stagnated.
The Qualls Early Learning Inventory (QELI) assessment shows that only 41 percent of economically disadvantaged students in Arkansas with no known pre-K scored as “developed” upon entering kindergarten.
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 31 percent of Arkansas third graders are actually reading at grade level, demonstrating that early education needs have not been met.
Specifically within the Arkadelphia School District, National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results showed that only 43 percent of fourth grade students met or exceeded literacy expectations, according to its District Report Card from the Arkansas Department of Education. Additionally, 56 percent of the district is considered to be low-income, heightening the need for both pre-K quality and access.
A product of pre-K, Dr. Glen Jones, president of Henderson State University said he believes in the importance of pre-K education.
Jones believes pre-K is beneficial to not only the students, but also their families.
“Whenever there is an opportunity to help kids who are less fortunate and whenever there is an opportunity to provide an opportunity for kids to really, truly get a fair head start in life, I think it is part of my fundamental obligation,” said Jones.
Like Powell, Jones believes the power of education to transform lives begins early.
Dr. David Rainey, co-chair of the ForwARd Arkansas group, said the organization was established through a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education, the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.
According to Rainey, educators from across the state believe that high quality pre-K is the key to making the state a leading state.
“They have to have a strong foundation to be successful,” said Rainey.
Dr. Donnie Whitten, superintendent of the Arkadelphia Public School District, said it is important for individuals to realize that pre-K does matter.
Whitten talked about the district’s effort to enhance early childhood education.
Initially, the district opened several classrooms for four-year-old students. Today, services have been expanded to serve students from six weeks old and beyond.
According to Whitten, the services would not be possible without the district’s partnerships with Southern Bancorp, the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, the state and other groups.
“We are now able to have about 160 students in our local area in our pre-K program,” said Whitten.
As an educator and a parent, Whitten said pre-K is a program that matters.
“Pre-K is not political; it cannot be. It has got to be an issue about kids, about community, about family and about serving all of the kids who need that help,” Whitten said.