Hutchinson outlines plan to improve workforce education


LITTLE ROCK — Republican candidate for governor Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday outlined a plan to create a network of regional advisory councils that would work to increase efficiency in the state’s workforce training system.

Hutchinson also said that if elected he would evaluate the success of the so-called private option to determine whether it should be continued, improved or scrapped.

“I want to attract industry, and I want to build our manufacturing base,” Hutchinson told reporters during a news conference at his campaign headquarters in west Little Rock. “Manufacturing is coming back to the United States of America, and Arkansas will be a part of that and will compete for that.”

To compete effectively, he said, the state must reduce inefficiencies in its workforce training system.

“It is not coordinated sufficiently, there are multiple agencies with overlap in responsibility for workforce training, and there’s not effective partnerships statewide with all of our educational institutions, from two-year colleges and even four-year colleges with our high schools and our technical colleges,” he said.

Hutchinson’s plan, PREPARE — an acronym for a list of the plan’s goals — calls for the creation, through legislation, of eight regional Workforce Education Councils whose members would include economic developers, industry leaders and educators. Each council would set priorities for workforce training based on the needs of that region, and would make recommendations on where to direct workforce education funding so that it goes to programs that produce results.

Hutchinson said details regarding the councils would be worked out in the legislation, but he expected them to include at least 12 people each and expected the governor to have a large role in appointing members.

Each council would be responsible for completing a plan no later than six months after being formed. The plans would coordinate workforce training from high school to the workplace, which Hutchinson said has not been done before in Arkansas.

He said the plan should require no additional spending of taxpayer dollars and should ultimately save money.

Bill Stovall, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, voiced reservations about the program Wednesday.

“We appreciate the value placed on our state’s need for technical training and the significant role our two-year colleges play in meeting these needs, but we have strong concerns about the redistribution of dollars from an already underfunded system,” Stovall said.

The campaigns of Democratic candidate for governor Mike Ross and Hutchinson’s Republican primary opponent, Curtis Coleman, issued statements Wednesday that took jabs at Hutchinson over his announcement.

“It’s ironic that after a career in Washington voting and lobbying against Arkansas’ working families, Congressman Hutchinson has finally tried to own up to the problems he helped create,” Ross spokesman Brad Howard said. “After all, Congressman Hutchinson voted for trade policies that shipped our jobs overseas and lobbied for big corporations that outsourced good-paying jobs to countries like India and the Philippines.”

Coleman said, “I am complimented that Mr. Hutchinson would think so much of my education policy, The Coleman Education Plan, released on January 28, 2014, that he would try to dress it in a different set of clothes and call it his own.”

Hutchinson also was asked Wednesday about his position on the private option, the state’s program that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans. State legislators appropriated a second round of federal funding for the program during this year’s fiscal session after lengthy, often contentious debate.

“What I will do as governor is to study the cost of it long-term, I’ll study the effectiveness of the program, whether it’s accomplishing its objective. And if it’s not meeting its objective or it’s cost-prohibitive to our state, we’ll work to end it,” Hutchinson said.

“I also want to look at further reforms that might be needed, even beyond what’s been done here, to add more conservative principles, to make sure it reflects the value of our state and that it is an incentive for people to work and not an incentive for people not to work,” he said.