On the Tax Bill

Last week, the entire Arkansas congressional delegation voted for a tax bill that rewards corporations on the backs of working class families.  They voted for a bill that will explode the federal deficit in order to give massive tax breaks to the wealthiest of the wealthy.  They voted for a bill that according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center will cause over a quarter of American households to see their taxes go up by 2027. They voted for a bill that will hurt Arkansas families.

The mega-rich in this state aren’t hurting.  Our state’s working class families are hurting, and it’s time we sit up and pay attention. History shows that the only way to effectively grow the economy is from the middle out and bottom up – yet our legislators voted for a plan that adds trillions to the national debt just to give tax breaks to the donor class. Arkansas needs meaningful legislation that benefits real people and not corporations and multi-millionaires.  We deserve representatives who care about people, not profits.

Research shows that trickle down economics does not improve the lives of working class families.  One thing it does do effectively, however, is continue the vicious cycle of income inequality and cyclical poverty that plagues our state and states all over the country. The only way to grow the economy and make a real difference in people’s lives is by helping the people who need it – like the single mom working two jobs and taking night classes at the local community college who dreams that one day she’ll be able to afford a home with a backyard and a dog for her two kids.  Yet instead our legislators slash taxes for the wealthiest of the wealthy while our state’s residents struggle to put food on the table and pay for the prescription medications their kids need.

Arkansas is ranked 44th in the nation for poverty rates with more than 17% of our state’s residents living at or below the poverty line, according to U.S. News and World Report. We are 49th in terms of wages with a median household income of only $44,300.  Poverty is particularly prevalent in Garland County, affecting 1 out of every 4 children and seniors. But under the tax plan that our representatives voted for, 11 million American families will see tax increases of up to $1,000, according to the Tax Policy Center.  The stark reality is that Arkansas families can’t afford it.

My husband and I are educators and are not independently wealthy; we’re hardworking Arkansans just like our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  And just like our family and friends across this state, we worry about the increases in cost of living and how we’ll continue to save money for our daughter’s college education.  What it comes down to is that the solution to the problems of poverty, healthcare, and income inequality doesn’t come in the form of cutting taxes for the wealthy.  The only proven solution that works is to make serious investments in working class families – yet our representatives have chosen to reward corporations and ignore the real problems facing our residents.

It’s time to elect legislators who truly care about the people they represent.  We deserve representatives who listen to their constituents and will propose real solutions to the problems facing Arkansas families. We deserve legislators who will make meaningful strides to invest in educational opportunities for our people, drive down the costs of prescription medications, and ensure that our people have jobs they can count on and income they can live on.  And we can’t afford to wait.

Our people are hurting, and we need legislators who are focused on helping Arkansas families achieve more, do more, and be more.  The time is now.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

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On the Economy & Education

Few people realize how closely aligned education is with a state’s economy.  Education is an economic issue, and until we recognize that and begin providing long-term solutions in the form of a stronger educational system that meets the needs of our people, our residents will continue to face economic and financial hardships. Research shows that those who are highly educated earn higher incomes and are more likely to have job security.  Those who are not well educated are much more likely to be unemployed and to struggle financially throughout their lives. The most important step we can take in order to make our workforce more productive and to tangibly improve the quality of people’s lives is to invest in education. Arkansas can and must do a better job.

When you read the statistics on the state of education in Arkansas, the reality is alarming.  Only 39% of graduating seniors in Arkansas met reading readiness benchmarks on the ACT in 2015, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  In younger grades, the data is even more concerning:  Only 27% of Arkansas’ 8th grade students are proficient in reading.  That means that only a little over 1 in 4 Arkansas students are able to read proficiently at grade level.  When we compare that data with how other states are performing, Arkansas is on the low end; our reading scores place us in the bottom third in a side by side comparison.

Our state is teeming with poverty, and poverty is cyclical.  According to U.S. News and World Report, Arkansas ranks 44th in the nation for poverty rates with more than 17% of our state’s residents living at or below the poverty line.  We are 49th in terms of wages with a median household income of only $44,300.  There is also an unarguable link between poverty and low literacy rates.  According to Family and Community Engagement Research, 61% of low-income families do not have age appropriate books in their home.  In low-income neighborhoods, there is often only one book for every 300 children.

Some initiatives such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library have tried to combat this by providing free age-appropriate books each month to children in participating communities. But we must do more.  The only way to break the seemingly never-ending cycle is to provide the means for our people to climb up and out of their current situation, and the way we do that is by expanding educational opportunities throughout this state – starting with universal Pre-K and moving all the way up to providing more opportunities for high school students to attain technical certifications while in school.

We also must provide more practical training to our state’s teachers.  As an educator who has worked in secondary and higher education in schools in southwest and central Arkansas for over fourteen years, I can personally attest to the profound lack of meaningful professional development opportunities for educators in this state.  All too often, legislative bodies allot millions of dollars to outsource professional development by bringing in so-called “expert” educational companies or motivational speakers to provide a two-hour training session that is a waste of both taxpayer money and teachers’ time.  We have to do a better job of teaching our teachers, and the answer is surprisingly simpler than you might think.  The best and most unused resource for training teachers is teachers themselves.  There is no professional development money can buy that can replace the vast wealth of knowledge that already exists in the employees of institutions of secondary and higher education.

In 2013, the Economic Policy Institute found that “providing expanded access to high quality education will not only expand economic opportunity for residents, but will likely do more to strengthen the overall state economy than anything else a state government can do.”  The implications are clear: In order to strengthen Arkansas’ economy and boost wages for our people, we must recommit ourselves to providing the best quality education we can, and that means investing in our educators and doing more to provide early educational opportunities for our students.  We cannot afford to wait.

Our people are hurting, and we need legislators who are focused on helping Arkansas families achieve more, do more, and be more.  The time is now.

After all – it’s our tomorrow.

Hayden