Arkansas Black Caucus Chair Calls For $1 Million In Higher Ed For Inmates This Fiscal Session

Apr 26, 2016

File. State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock).
Credit Arkansas Times

Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Linda Chesterfield plans to introduce legislation this week for $1 million in higher education funding for inmates preparing to exit the system. The Democratic state senator from Little Rock announced in a meeting on Monday she’ll try on Thursday to add the appropriation for pilot programs at Shorter College and ASU-Newport.

The two institutions are the only colleges in the state seeking authorization under a new U.S. Department of Education rule allowing adult inmates who were barred under a 1994 decision to receive Pell Grants. About 200 institutions have applied nationwide.

Sen. Chesterfield said the $1 million from the state will begin helping that population until the new, Second Chance Pell Grants pilot program is authorized in the fall.

“It will allow us to help educate at least 75 more people and then when we get the Pell Grant money it will kick in and we will already have had sustained effort in that particular arena,” she said. “They’ll already be prepared and in those facilities.”

The head of Arkansas Community Correction Sheila Sharp told the caucus that about 66 percent of the 54,000 people under some form of state supervision have GED’s and very few have any higher education. Referring to workforce training and college courses, Sharp said “we know how critical” it is in reducing recidivism. 

Chesterfield said she hadn't yet reached out to lawmakers beyond those the black caucus but said it's a "bi-partisan issue. We know we need to cut the recidivism rate." She said she's been "kicked in the teeth" before but she'll keep trying to address the problem of mass incarceration.