Local Leaders Tie NEA Education to Stronger Economy

January 14, 2003
Posted at: 11:00 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- A streamlined school system, or consolidated districts could mean different things for different people.

In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee conceded that some people will lose their jobs. A necessary sacrifice, according to Huckabee, to guarantee a better education for Arkansas children.

Northeast Arkansas is welcoming more business and industry everyday. Good schools are a strong selling point of any chamber of commerce trying to lure industry to their community. A better educated student today, could translate to a stronger economy in Region 8 tomorrow.

New places to eat and shop are now calling the area home. New local industry projects are coming along very well, especially Jonesboro's latest win in the recruiting game: Nestle Foods USA. People with new Region 8 businesses have families who want a good education system for their kids, and local industry wants to have communities filled with good, educated employees.

Northeast Arkansas schools rank among some of the highest in the state, but John Deacon, who chairs the community education chamber committee for the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce, says education is a major point when you're pitching the Natural State to big companies.

"There are some pockets in Arkansas that can't compete nationally and internationally in the business arena, and certainly from the state," Deacon said. "On a general level, we have a lot of catching up to do."

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas have recently released some education reform suggestions, which include:

  • Adopting a standardized cost accounting system for documenting expenses for every public school district.
  • Reduce the administrative structure, currently in place statewide.
  • Gauge the current administrative costs to be more aligned with other Southern Regional Education Board states.

The state chamber, which is a separate entity from the Jonesboro chamber, and the industry association have also suggested an incentive program for Arkansas school districts. The incentives would mean school districts would be rewarded for cutting non-classroom costs. Those incentives could mean the outsourcing of school related functions like transportation, maintenance, and administration.

As the northeast part of the state welcomes new business and industry, changes in the state's plan to fund and possibly restructure or consolidate school districts could change the area's plans to welcome more people, businesses, and opportunity for growth.