Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas Public Media is a regional journalism collaboration funded by KUAR 89.1 and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Arkansas has until this fall to rewrite a wide-ranging education plan under the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act based on stakeholder feedback solicited on a draft this summer.

The Act replaces the Bush Administration era’s No Child Left Behind. In contrast to its predecessor, the new federal law moves away from ranking schools based on standardized tests and toward state control and a more diverse set of metrics.

Willie Freeman says he used to avoid smiling, and if he did, it was in a way almost no one could see, with his mouth closed. He was embarrassed of his rotten teeth.

“I wouldn’t go around people and if I did smile, you know, nobody would see me smile,” said Freeman. “My teeth was so messed up, you know, I had gaps everywhere,” he said sitting in an office at Little Rock’s low-income, non-profit Harmony Health Clinic, waiting for an appointment.

About one in three Arkansas residents is obese, and doctors say it’s leading to people dying much younger than they need to, and leading unhealthier lives in the meantime.

“They have more co-morbidities, which means they have other disease processes that basically can shorten their lifespans, such as diabetes and hypertension and heart disease,” said Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.  He said since the human body is not meant to carry hundreds of extra pounds, morbidly obese humans may suffer severe hip, joint, knee or ankle pain.

Several toddlers huddle under an oak tree on the Harrison town square pretending to burn something.

"P-wish," a little boy says.  "I’m going to light the fire up!”

Their parents stand a few feet away, with roughly 60 other Ku Klux Klan members holding placards as a gay pride parade goes by. The air vibrates with chants and counter-chants, some of the anti-LGBTQ shouts vulgar. The Klan protestors follow the pride procession for several blocks, converging on a local park where parade members are staging a small festival. Protestors are barred from the gated event so take up positions around the perimeter. Many are mothers pushing infants in strollers, children and teenagers, as well as single women, all members of the Christian Revival Center, operated by Pastor and Ku Klux Klan leader, Thomas Robb. 

  

Dr. Sheldon Riklon walks into an examination room inside Community Clinic in Springdale and greets his patient.

"Iakwe," he says, and slides a stool over to Haem Mea, a shy Marshallese elder. The two speak softly to one another for a few moments.

Then he poses this question: So what's it like to have a real Marshallese doctor in town?

“Really helpful,” Mea says, grinning.

Riklon is one of only two U.S. trained Marshallese doctors in the world. He relocated from the Hawaiin islands last year to Northwest Arkansas where the largest population of migrants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the world now reside.

Dr. Riklon practices family medicine at Community Clinic, a federally qualified health center which last year served more than 36,000 middle- to low-income patients in Benton and Washington Counties, thousands of them Marshallese. And many of them are really sick. 

Two-year-old Adalynn Landrum lies on a blanket on the floor of her living room. She watches cartoons on a large flat screen television screen hung above a row of stuffed animals placed on a blanket next to her on the floor. Her small face is partially covered by an oxygen feeding cup with a tube connected to a medical cart stationed behind her head. The cart holds an array of devices.

CLARKSVILLE — Before a gathering of Rotarians enjoying corn on the cob and barbecue pork, inside a cool room at the University of the Ozarks, the state’s former lieutenant governor and the city’s utilities manager explain the prescience of a 20,000-module solar array in 20 slides.

 

It's a roughly $10 million investment, or about what the city itself spends in just eight months for power, since it doesn’t generate any itself, according to the manager, John Lester.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arkansans don't need special civil rights protections, according to the Arkansas legislature and governor. Act 137 of 2015 bars cities and counties from passing ordinances that "create protected classification or prohibits discrimination" on anyone not covered by the state's existing civil rights codes.

Arkansas's Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other classifications — but not sexual orientation or gender identity. And because several state anti-bullying and domestic violence statutes offer LGBTQ Arkansans protection, opponents say local codes are redundant — codes such as Fayetteville's Ordinance 5781 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  

State Act 137 also ensures that “businesses, organizations and employers doing business in the state are subject to uniform nondiscrimination laws and obligations.”

But Act 137 has come under judicial scrutiny.

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data center finds that heart disease is the fifth-highest cause of death for children and teenagers in Arkansas. 

At five-percent, heart disease is dwarfed by other causes, such as accidents, which account for 34 percent of childhood deaths. But doctors say heart disease can still endanger kids and put many others at risk for problems in adulthood and lead to heart attacks under the age of 40.

A few more Arkansas school kids hit the state's proficiency level in standardized testing in the 2016-2017 school year compared to the previous year.

The number of students meeting state "readiness" benchmarks on the state's ACT Aspire exam rose by an average of 4.2 percent from last year across subject areas. That number hovers around the 50 percent mark

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