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Halter announces plan to cover college tuition for state students

'Arkansas Promise' would not raise taxes, campaign says

Posted: March 18, 2013 at 6:36 a.m.
Updated: March 18, 2013 at 8:07 a.m.

FILE — Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is interviewed in North Little Rock, Ark. in 2010.

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has announced a plan to cover complete college tuition for students graduating from high school and meeting minimum standards.

Halter, a Democrat who unveiled the "Arkansas Promise" as his first policy announcement in his campaign for governor, said the initiative — mirrored after similar programs in El Dorado and Arkadelphia — can be accomplished without raising taxes.

Halter, who as lieutenant governor spearheaded the effort to create the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, said increasing financial support for the state's students is an important step for Arkansas, which ranks 49th in the country in percentage of work force with a college degree. He said a "well-educated, well-trained workforce" will attract companies to the state, resulting in higher-paying jobs.

"This is a proposal that would make Arkansas the number one state in the country in terms of college affordability and accessibility," Halter said in a phone interview Monday morning. "It's something that pays off not only for the students and their families, but it pays off for the entire state."

Students would qualify for the scholarships if they graduate from high school with a 2.5 grade-point average and attend an in-state school. The level of the scholarship would be equal to the tuition of the highest-cost, four-year public university.

Halter said the money would come from the existing Lottery Scholarship, federal grants, additional private scholarships and charitable support. A 26-page plan released with his announcement puts the estimated annual cost in additional general revenue from the state at $50 million to $75 million. Halter called that a "minor expense compared to the benefits it will create."

In his proposal, Halter noted that Gov. Mike Beebe's reduction in the grocery tax has resulted in a decrease of about $120 million a year in general revenue.

He said he has "explicitly" ruled out a tax increase as a funding source.

"My analysis is a tax increase is not necessary to fund this," Halter said. "General revenue growth and cost-savings will be sufficient to fund this."

If general revenue growth didn't fully fund the program, Halter said he would look to cut from "lower return" state spending. He declined to give examples of where he'd seek the money.

"We're talking about a proposal that would go through after a gubernatorial election that's 18 months away," he said. "It will depend on the circumstances at the time."

Halter is the only announced Democratic candidate for governor, though others have acknowledged they are considering entering the race including former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross and former Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter. Republicans former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson and businessman Curtis Coleman are also running.

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Populist agenda that will no doubt garner lots of votes for Mr. Halter. I'd wager a guess that Mr. Halter is taking a page out of the Democratic playbook on a national level. Next, he'll no doubt be talking about how wealthier Arkansans are not paying their "fair share" (all the while beaming with pride about the lottery that is effectively a tax on the people least able to pay an additional tax).However, it fails to address the real issue, which is a lack of top notch jobs that will keep our graduates at home.I just spent lunch with a guy currently majoring in computer engineering at UA. As I listened to him discuss what he was interested in, I couldn't help but ask where he thought he would get a job in Arkansas that matched his passions. No doubt that if this fella wants to pursue what he has a passion for, he will end up leaving the state - becoming perhaps a part of Arkansas' most valuable export - college graduates. Instead of feather plucking jobs, Arkansas (and more specifically NWA) needs to focus on jobs that can raise our standard of living. These types of jobs typically require better skill sets and often advanced degrees and education. Let's please not fall for these populists themes.

Posted by: Publius

March 18, 2013 at 4 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Gawd, and the only thing the GOP has to oppose this piece of democrat litter box treasure is Asa? Oh, how I miss Bill. (sound of pukeing in background)

Posted by: Moneymyst

March 18, 2013 at 5:22 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

>>However, it fails to address the real issue, which is a lack of top notch jobs that will keep our graduates at home.<

The big driver for many employers is a qualified, educated work force. Pluribus is doing the classic
chicken/egg argument. Obviously if an employers needs educated, trained workforce Arkansas is on the bottom of their list.

Btw, Charlie Collins bill (HB 1585) to lower taxes on the wealthiest of Arkansans started being debated. Here's one analysis

http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/...

Posted by: cdawg

March 18, 2013 at 8:11 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

RE "Populist agenda that will no doubt garner lots of votes for Mr. Halter. I'd wager a guess that Mr. Halter is taking a page out of the Democratic playbook on a national level."
But why mention the "populist agenda" or the "Democratic playbook" in relation to the job situation in Arkansas, when it is more attributable to conservative thinking and corporate pillaging of the state?

RE "it fails to address the real issue, which is a lack of top notch jobs that will keep our graduates at home."
This from a guy who works at a company that does demand data management for Walmart-- one of the worst "job creators" in the country.

RE "Instead of feather plucking jobs, Arkansas (and more specifically NWA) needs to focus on jobs that can raise our standard of living."
Which won't be jobs at Walmart. But maybe making it easier for a broader swath of Arkansas residents to get a college education will result in a broader swath of business interests and entrepreneurship.

Posted by: AlphaCat

March 18, 2013 at 10:33 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

A college education doesn't seem to be a very good deal lately. I read that less than 10% of people that start on public asisstance graduate. Even though they don't graduate they leave with some level of sttudent debt. Many of those that do graduate do so with a 6 figure student debt. Slightly more than half of graduates can find decent jobs and the rest are either unemployed or underemployed (good thing Wal Mart and McDonalds do offer some jobs or the underemployed would be unemployed, ya think?).

When I went to a well regarded state university my tuition as a full time student was $1,200 a year. I paid it with summer jobs and covered my living expenses with part time work during the school year.

Minimum wage was $1.65 and the average full time unskilled production type manufacturing job paid about $3 an hour. The UAW guys at the GM plant were making about $7-$9 an hour. They were making more than the managers at other factories. A degreed business manager that might become a foreman at a factory started at $12-15K annually. That was good money back then.

I don't think it's possible to work your way through like I did today. The annual cost of tuition appears to be more than a low skill manufacturing annual wage. In NWA a full time worker in a chicken plant makes just about $25,000 annually. I don't know what UA is charging but I seem to recall that tuition at some schools cost a lot more than that.

I also had an actual professor teach every class in my Freshman year except Biology 101. It was a very basic course held in a large lecture hall filled with about 200 students or so and there were three to maybe six graduate students teaching it at once.

I think kids are not getting their money's worth today. In my day the only "public assistance" in "higher" education I ever heard of was the GI Bill. People didn't leave college with student debt. If you didn't have the money you didn't go, but it didn't cost that much, either. I had a friend or two that might have to sit out a semester once in a while and work so they could pay up.

If I was going to do it again from an economic standpoint I think I would go to a community college and learn to be a plumber or electrician or something. Maybe some medical thing? Those skill sets are in great demand, graduates get jobs quickly, and they pay well. It beats getting a degree at UA and working as a waiter.

Posted by: jeffieboy

March 19, 2013 at 12:42 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

"But maybe making it easier for a broader swath of Arkansas residents to get a college education will result in a broader swath of business interests and entrepreneurship."

Naw! They'll just move to where the jobs aleady are if they can find one. Maybe we can get the Magpull company to locate a factory here when they leave Colorado? Maybe Wal Mart will require even more of it's vendors to establish offices here? They pay pretty well from what I've seen. Regardless, over 40% of Arkansas college graduates can't find a decent job anywhere, not just in Arkansas, not anywhere.

Posted by: jeffieboy

March 19, 2013 at 1:30 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

RE "A college education doesn't seem to be a very good deal lately.""
It certainly isn't the key to the future that it was when you went to college in, what-- the late 1960s?

RE "I read that less than 10% of people that start on public asisstance graduate."
Where?

RE "(good thing Wal Mart and McDonalds do offer some jobs or the underemployed would be unemployed, ya think?)"
In a way, but why offer full-time jobs that keep people on the dole (especially when they aren't actually full-time)? Many such employees, despite working full-time, in two-income families, are still the "takers" that conservatives and Republicans seem to revile. Some people actually believe that it is possible to work sixty or more hours a week-- that's a lot of "skin in the game"-- and somehow still be a "taker".

RE "Regardless, over 40% of Arkansas college graduates can't find a decent job anywhere, not just in Arkansas, not anywhere."
Not if they're looking at a Walmart store, which would be located-- probably not coincidentally-- in the same anywhere that it is supposedly impossible to find a good job in.

RE "If I was going to do it again..."
Things are certainly different than they were when you or I went to college. In addition to the vast changes in the nature of work and shifts in the type of work done and disciplines involved, corporations (with help from both parties) have devastated the middle class that coexisted with the useful college degree.

Posted by: AlphaCat

March 19, 2013 at 2:23 a.m. ( | suggest removal )