Arkansas lawmakers decided against a $14 million funding increase for pre-K programs Tuesday. The Joint Budget Committee reviewed the Department of Education’s budget plan in advance of the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Joyce Elliot, D-Little Rock, asked for a vote on an appropriation for extra funding to address cost of living increases since the program last received a funding increase in 2008.
She says her goal was simply to keep the program running at a basic level and the decision reflects a troubling set of priorities in the legislature.
"We really need to think about our priorities and you don't invest in the young, but you're willing to wait and invest in them when they are in prison, I mean, I think we need to seriously question ourselves about what's important here. So that's why I'll keep pushing for it," said Elliot.
But Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Montain View, said such a vote was premature and that pre-K is not a critical program. She said she wants a methodical budget process based on a comprehensive analysis, not one-off decisions.
"I don't think our [incoming] Governor, Asa Hutchinson, wants to manage that way. I think he wants to manage by having our budget directed by good, sound policy that's innovative, that saves money and those discussions and those debates are going to happen during the session," she said.
Advocates for pre-K said it addresses a critical need in the state with only 56 percent of eligible children receiving services. They said they will continue to pursue additional funds for pre-K in January, when the session is underway.