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Walton Family Foundation joins state effort to improve education

On Thursday (Aug. 14) the Arkansas Board of Education unanimously agreed to enter into a partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to target improvement in academically distressed schools and districts across Arkansas.

“No one person or organization has all the answers to the challenges we face in education. Collaboration with others is essential if we are to take the bold and brave steps necessary to motivate change,” said Kathy Smith, senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation.

The program, dubbed ForwARd, is aimed at making change at underperforming schools. Smith said too many students are being held back from their full academic potential because schools and some districts are not equipped to teach them.

“With this partnership we will tackle this issue head-on,” Smith said.

According to recent research, the economic impact of ensuring all Arkansas students graduate high school prepared for college would save the state approximately $50 million annually in college remediation costs and lost earnings. This research demonstrates that the future success of Arkansas’ economy begins with the success of the state’s students, according to ForwARd.

“Every Arkansas student should graduate high school fully prepared for success in college and the workplace,” said Sam Ledbetter, chairman of the Arkansas State Board of Education. “The time is now to develop an actionable plan that will involve multiple stakeholders in communities with schools or districts in academic distress to push our state forward to ensure high-quality educational opportunities for all Arkansans.”

Ledbetter said the strategic recommendations of the ForwARd initiative will allow the state to create one of the finest public education systems in the nation.

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Later this fall, the ForwARd initiative will release The State of Public Education in Arkansas, a report featuring baseline data on the state’s educational outcomes. The ForwARd initiative will also begin to convene educators, parents, educational advocacy stakeholders, and policymakers in support of a strategic planning process. The comprehensive strategic plan is scheduled to be completed by summer 2015.

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