Smart investment in education, beginning with the first five years of life, is an essential strategy for creating sustained, long-term economic growth in Arkansas. Despite its abundant natural resources, growing population, low unemployment rate, and well- known business enterprises, Arkansas ranks 48th of the 50 states in per capita income. Without reform and new investments in education, this poor ranking will continue to be true. Arkansas scores below the national average in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, starting in fourth grade. Only 21 percent of its citizens have a four-year college degree, compared to 29 percent of people nationally.
Arkansas’s education, income, and economic growth problems are exacerbated by the inequalities behind the averages. Arkansas has large achievement gaps in both reading and math for children. While some progress has been made in closing the achievement gap in math, there has been no significant reduction in the reading gap since 1998. These gaps presage future economic inequality and low average wages, given the large numbers of low-income and minority children who are on the wrong side of these achievement gaps.
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