Local & Regional News
8:41 am
Tue August 26, 2014

State House Race Heats Up Over Records Search Regarding Four-Year-Old

Clarke and Toni Tucker
Clarke and Toni Tucker
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A four-year-old’s enrollment in pre-K is at the forefront of the race for a closely contested state House seat in Little Rock. Democratic state House hopeful Clarke Tucker is questioning the character of his opponent’s campaign for looking into publically available education records regarding his child.

Tucker sent out a mailer on August 20th advocating for expanded pre-K, stating the Little Rock School District couldn’t place his child Ellis in its pre-K program because of limited space.

That’s a claim his opponent Stacy Hurst contests.

“But they did have access to a pre-K education through the Little Rock School District. The mailer says that they did not, that the school district was not able to place Ellis, when in fact they were,” said Hurst.

Speaking to reporters at his campaign headquarters Tucker said his son was given access on August 13th. Tucker said that was just days before the school year began and after he had already made payments to a private pre-school and after his family had mentally prepared for the transition to the pre-school they had selected after being denied access by the district on April 29th.

Tucker contends his statement his son was denied access to pre-K still holds true. The actual text of the mailer does have some nuance to consider in the time frame provided for:

“Unfortunately, we received a letter early this summer informing us that the Little Rock School District was not able to place Ellis in a pre-K program due to limited space.”

Speaking beside his wife Toni, who was near or at tears throughout his remarks, Tucker accused the state Republican Party and the campaign of opponent Stacy Hurst of acting in poor taste not just for seeking e-mails from the school district about his family and child but for doing so before the mailer even came out.

“You can’t hide from the fact that they were investigating my four year old child before they ever even knew we said anything about it. You can attempt to fact check the issue before investigating the records of my four year old child,” said Tucker.

He also characterized the use of Freedom of Information Act requests by the state Republican Party at the behest of Hurst’s campaign as an abuse.

“They’re using that process to seek information between me and my wife and our son’s grandparents about his educational future during a time that was a very difficult tense time for our family on that issue and that’s just unacceptable,” said Tucker.

Hurst said the issues of his son’s pre-k access had been brought up well before the mailer came out.

“The topic of the Tucker’s not being provided their first pre-K choice had been the topic of discussion for some time in various circles. It’s about a candidate being vetted, I know I’m being vetted, and we haven’t asked for anything that’s not a matter of public record,” said Hurst.

She accused Tucker of using his four year old to make misleading claims about pre-K and to cast her position as against pre-K expansion. Hurst said she favors expanding pre-K access and is interested in using some form of subsidies based on income to gradually expand pre-K statewide though she is uncertain on a timetable for expansion. She suggested some of the funding could come from the surplus.

Tucker backs an investment in pre-K similar to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross’s more clearly defined plan to offer pre-K to every four year old in the state by 2025 and to provide subsidies based on income limits. A cornerstone of the plan costs over $30 million to subsidize most costs for those living 300 percent below the poverty level.

House district 35 in Little Rock includes some of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods along the Arkansas River. Democrats see it as an important battle ground in fighting growing Republican control in the state House. The GOP currently holds a slim 51-49 majority.