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High death rates, unchanging poverty level puts Arkansas among worst states for child well-being • Arkansas Advocate

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High death rates, unchanging poverty level puts Arkansas among worst states for child well-being • Arkansas Advocate


The experience of growing up in Arkansas has worsened in most areas of child well-being according to the latest Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

The group’s latest KIDS COUNT Data Book, released Monday, shows 2022 was the deadliest year on record for child deaths in Arkansas. Child poverty and low educational performance persisted.

The report uses information from 2022 to analyze nationwide data from 16 indicators in four domains: family and community, education, health and economics. The report then ranks states by overall child well-being. Arkansas’ position at 45th is down two slots from its ranking the last two years.

Arkansas has ranked as one of the country’s 10 worst states for overall child well-being nine times in the last decade. The only year it didn’t rank in the bottom 40, it came in at 39.

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The recent drop in rankings results from a combination of Arkansas’ indicators worsening and other states improving at a quicker rate, leaving the Natural State to fall farther behind, said Pete Gess, economic policy director at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF).

Keesa Smith, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

AACF is a member of the KIDS COUNT network, and staff provided a report preview last week and offered policy solutions. Executive Director Keesa Smith spoke to the connectedness between the indicators.

“If you start with the big piece of data, which is the number of children living in poverty, that speaks to a situation already that families are trying to overcome that will lead to additional problems,” Smith said.

The ability to secure affordable housing, purchase healthy food and access transportation for well-paying jobs all start with the state’s poverty level, Smith said.

By the report’s count, approximately 150,000 of Arkansas’ 683,000 children were living in poverty in 2022. While the percentage of children in poverty, 22%, went unchanged this year, state officials have the ability to improve that number, Gess said.

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“We could cut childhood poverty in half … simply if we had spent less than what we have given away in tax cuts over the past decade,” he said. “Those tax cuts, of course, have gone mostly to the wealthy. If we had used that and targeted it at child tax credits, most children would be lifted out of poverty in Arkansas.”

Report highlights

Arkansas performed worst when it came to health, and one standout statistic came from the child and teen death rate.

From 2019 to 2022, the rate at which children and teenagers died in Arkansas increased by 26%. At 44 deaths per 100,000 children and teens in 2022, Arkansas’ rate was the third-highest in the country, and well above the national average of 30 deaths, according to the report.

It was the deadliest year for Arkansas kids on record, said Camille Richoux, AACF’s health policy director.

The state data isn’t broken out into cause of death, but firearm-related deaths have become the leading cause of death among U.S. teens in recent years. Deaths from accidents such as car crashes account for most child deaths.

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Richoux referenced other research that suggested Arkansas had one of the highest firearm injury rates as well. She said children and teens often have easy access to unsecure firearms and aren’t safely taught how to handle them.

1 in 5 Arkansas children lost Medicaid during ‘unwinding’ process, report finds

Six percent of children in Arkansas were without health care in 2022, according to the report. This data doesn’t include children who were disenrolled from Medicaid during the state’s “unwinding process,” which started in April 2023. 

Richoux said there is more work to be done than what the latest report shows as one in five children in Arkansas recently lost access to Medicaid.

The teen birth rate in Arkansas decreased 17% from 2019 to 2022, but the state’s rate of 25 births per 1,000 females remained one of the highest in the nation. In combination with low-birth weights, these statistics were troubling for AACF staff when considering Arkansas’ high maternity and infant mortality rates.

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Laura Kellams, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

“This is a really important indicator, not only for those young people who are becoming parents before they plan to, but also for their young children who are so much more likely to live in poverty,” said Laura Kellams, AACF’s Northwest Arkansas director.

Arkansas teens aren’t necessarily more sexually active than teens in other states, Kellams said. The difference in Arkansas is the lack of education they receive about safe sex and their ability to access contraceptives.

A post-pandemic education analysis

The latest national report marked the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the return of some sense of normalcy. The data highlights how the pandemic affected children and families, specifically related to education and learning loss.

Arkansas’ education performance ranked 36th nationwide, one position higher than in the last report, and data showed that students struggled to keep up with standardized testing measures.

From 2019 to 2022, the percent of Arkansas eighth graders who scored below proficient in math  increased by 11% to 81%, ranking the state 43rd in the country. Most fourth graders, 70%, scored below a proficient reading level in 2022, a slight increase from pre-pandemic numbers.

Olivia Gardner, AACF’s education policy director, noted that while standardized tests are a useful tool when marking achievement, they’re not perfect measurements.

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“We have research that shows more affluent students perform better than low-income students because [low-income students] lack resources,” Gardner said.

Olivia Gardner, education policy director, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Olivia Gardner (Courtesy of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families)

Pre-K attendance also decreased from 2019 to 2022, according to the report. Whereas half of children ages 3 and 4 were previously not attending preschool, that percentage has risen to 57%.

To improve students’ classroom experience, AACF staff recommended universal low- or no-cost meals, a reliable internet connection, a place to study or spend time with friends, and access to high-quality teachers and counselors. AACF also suggested an expansion of intensive, in-person tutoring and policy measures that invest in community schools.

Of the 16 measured indicators, Arkansas’ outcomes were worse than the national average in 13.

All members of AACF’s staff noted it is necessary for state officials to make intentional investments that will act as preventative measures when it comes to child well-being.

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Petition drive Saturday in Magnolia seeks voter support for Arkansas constitutional amendments and acts

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LSU Lawsuit Raises Question About Arkansas Coaches

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LSU Lawsuit Raises Question About Arkansas Coaches


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The lawsuit filed by Les Miles against LSU over wins vacated as a result of NCAA violations from back during his run as Tigers’ head coach has brought forth rather interesting realizations.

The first is that there are coaches out there to whom the College Football Hall of Fame matters enough to spend money on lawyers while simultaneously dragging their names back through the mud for the outside shot they’ll get voted in. The second is how simple the criteria for getting considered happens to be and what a low bar it is.

To qualify, coaches must have a .600 average winning percentage and serve as head coach in at least 100 games. Basically, if someone can make it through each of his regular seasons going 6-6 in the regular season and win the bowl game against a Group of Five school over while possibly extending that regular season record to seven wins a few times, that mark can easily be hit during the eighth season.

So, with the bar so low, the question becomes whether any Arkansas coaches meet the standard during the modern era. Modern is a loose definition, so let’s say all schools are fully integrated with their football programs, conference television rights are a thing, and spread formations have found their way into the game.

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Arkansas coach Ken Hatfield on the field prior to facing the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl.

Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Ken Hatfield on the field prior to facing the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. / RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The most natural marking point in Razorbacks history takes place right after the departure of Lou Holtz. His successor, Ken Hatfield, faced Andre Ware and the famed run and shoot offense that once hung 95 points on SMU and coached games that appeared on Raycom, the Southwest Conference’s version of Jefferson Pilot.

Hatfield looked like a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when he left Arkansas after winning over 75% of his games. He was headed for Clemson, which had recently won a national championship.

He won 70% of his games with the Tigers after being tasked to clean up the NCAA sanctions mess left behind by Danny Ford. Yet, the fans there were unwilling to support him, so he left in 1993 still highly qualified for the honor.

Afterward, he sentenced himself to time at Rice where coaching careers go to die. At first he was such a good coach that being the second fiddle college in Houston wasn’t enough to hurt him.

In an odd twist worthy of a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame itself, Hatfield won the championship in an Arkansas-less SWC despite a 5-6 overall record. Unfortunately, his Owls weren’t eligible to accept the bowl bid that typically comes with being a major conference champion because of the losing record.

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After a pair of 7-4 seasons in 1996 and 1997, his overall record was134-84-4, well above the .600 mark. Unfortunately, Hatfield stuck around another eight seasons, only one of which featured a winning record, taking him out of Hall of Fame eligibility.

NOT ELIGIBLE

Arkansas fans might be surprised to know Jack Crowe, perhaps the biggest blemish on the Frank Broyles record on the college football side of things other than being why Hatfield left, finished his career with nearly the exact same winning percentage as Hatfield.

He finished 3-8 in his first season after Broyles talked him out of going to Clemson with Hatfield. The following year was his best at 6-6, which was good enough for runner-up in the SWC.

Then came the breaking point. He opened his third season with a shocking loss to Division I-AA Citadel in the Hogs’ debut as a member of the SEC. Crowe was 14-20 at that point, dating back to his days as head coach at Livingston.

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Eight years later he got a third chance a head coach at Jacksonville State. It looked like more of the same as he began 14-18 in his first three seasons, but the Gamecocks stuck with him through a move to the Ohio Valley Conference.

It paid off big time as he went 73-39, including an upset of Houston Nutt’s Ole Miss Rebels in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2010.

NOT ELIGIBLE

Had Ford stuck around at Arkansas much longer, he would have possibly knocked himself out of eligibility. Fortunately, he built a huge winning percentage while racking up infractions at Clemson.

He went 26-30-1 with Hogs despite bringing the Hogs their first SEC West championship on the strength of Madre Hill’s legs. It was Ford’s players Houston Nutt would use to put Arkansas legitimately in national championship contention for the first and only time in the modern era.

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In 2017 he became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as the youngest coach ever to win a national championship at age 33, but no one will ever think of him as an Arkansas Razorbacks coach when they look back on the success that landed him there.

ALREADY IN

Houston Nutt is by far the most successful Razorbacks coach of the SEC era. He came a Clint Stoerner stumble while running out the clock against No. 1 Tennessee on the road from potentially competing for the first ever BCS national championship and went to six consecutive bowl games back when that truly meant something.

Overall, he went to eight bowl games, including a Citrus, two Cottons and a Capital One while also winning the SEC West twice. He also is the only coach besides Bobby Petrino to have double-digit wins in the SEC era.

He likely would have been a shoe-in for the College Football Hall of Fame off his 75-48 record at Arkansas alone had he not stuck around at Ole Miss afterward for one season too long. In the two seasons after dealing with pushy parents and Broyles forcing him to hire Gus Malzahn against his wishes nudged him toward Oxford, where he led the Rebels to back-to-back Top 20 finishes and a pair of 9-4 records.

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However, things began falling apart in 2010. Ole Miss dropped to 4-8, which would have been the perfect time to exit as key relationships within the Rebels community began to fray.

Had he bailed at that point, Nutt would have been a perfect .600 and easily a nominee after 18 years as a head coach. Unfortunately, his time at Arkansas taught him a rebound is always around the corner after following a 4-7 season in Fayetteville with 10 wins.

It didn’t materialize though as he went 2-10 before being unceremoniously fired and inexplicably never given another opportunity to head a team despite only being 53.

NOT ELIGIBLE

Bobby Petrino is the only coach at Arkansas to win 11 games in the SEC era. He’s also the only coach to have multiple double-digit wins and a Top 5 finish since the Hogs moved to the SEC.

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That alone should be enough to land him in the College Football Hall of Fame even though a picture of him in a neck brace following a motorcycle accident will remain his most iconic image. Whether it was Arkansas, Louisville, Western Kentucky or Missouri State, he finished his time at each school with a winning record.

He has since opted for the offensive coordinator route, a job that in the SEC pays more than a lot of head coaching opportunities without a lot of the headaches and the potential of ruining his College Football Hall of Fame eligibility. So long as he keeps following that route, his .659 winning percentage will stay intact.

PRIME CANDIDATE

While Bielema’s tenure is remembered as a bit of a turbulent mess bookended by losing seasons and featuring massive letdowns and an embarrassing scene where a player stole from a department store despite being there to get bowl game gifts, Bielema put together just enough winning seasons to still have an outside shot of qualifying.

It took a Hunter Henry heave miracle against Ole Miss celebrated on April 25 each year since to do it, but Bielema went 7-6, 8-5 and 7-6 from 2014-16 before being fired so Arkansas could hire Chad Morris following a 4-8 season.

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At the time, that was considered an unacceptable level of football following nearly a decade of high level success. After spending years doing the least possible to make sure the Razorbacks had to continue paying his buyout, he finally landed at Illinois where he has since gone 18-19.

Bielema currently sits at a .599 winning percentage, which puts him below required line. Too many years at Arkansas and Illinois have since wiped out the wins at Wisconsin.

Whether he would be nominated should he get the required amount of wins is questionable. He is better known for his footwear, creating an environment that not even Sam Pittman would stomach as his assistant, and making the high school coaches of Texas furious, than his prowess as a head coach.

Even his success at Wisconsin is attributed more to the guidance of Barry Alvarez than Bielema’s genius. He is the only Badgers coach to lose consecutive Rose Bowl games, including a shocking loss to Mountain West champions TCU in 2011.

NOT ELIGIBLE

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These two coaches are grouped together because they come from the darkest period of Arkansas history in the modern era outside of Crowe’s tenure. Morris quite literally ran the program into the ground with an average of two wins per season as the meat in a four-year stretch of Razorbacks history that culminated in 11 wins.

Part of those 11 wins over four years includes the beginning of a losing tenure under Pittman. While he put together a pair of winning seasons in his second and third years, things have been on a downward trend since a victory in the Capital One Bowl over Penn State capped a 9-win season in Year 2.

Pittman currently has a 23-25 record and is the only coach in the modern era to be given a fourth season at Arkansas with a losing record. An unexpected huge turnaround this year could help him eventually get to enough seasons and wins to go in as a head coach, but right now the odds are stacked against him.

NOT ELIGIBLE

Despite eight coaches being given a shot to lead the Razorbacks as official head coaches, only one looks as if he will earn the chance to be considered for the College Football Hall of Fame and be viewed somewhat as a Razorback. While his tenure at Louisville might overshadow what Petrino with the Hogs, the iconic neck brace photo and Top 5 finish with the Hogs just prior to his time being unexpectedly shortened at Arkansas may be enough for people to think of him as a Razorback should it happen.

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Arkansas tax cut proposals sail through committees on first day of special session • Arkansas Advocate

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Arkansas tax cut proposals sail through committees on first day of special session • Arkansas Advocate


Two committees of Arkansas lawmakers approved measures to decrease income taxes and increase the homestead tax credit on Monday, the first day of the Legislature’s second special session in nine months.

Both the House and Senate Revenue and Tax committees passed, with no dissent, identical bills that seek to cut the top corporate income tax rate from 4.8% to 4.3% and the top individual income tax rate from 4.4% to 3.9%, retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year.

These cuts would reduce the state’s general revenue by a cumulative $483.5 million in fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1, and by $322.2 million each fiscal year afterward, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration’s fiscal impact report on Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1001.

The committees also passed Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 1002, which propose increasing the homestead property tax credit from $425 to $500. Lawmakers previously increased the tax credit from $375 to $425 during the 2023 legislative session.

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Both SB1 and HB1001 have emergency clauses, meaning they would go into effect immediately upon Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ signature. If they become law, corporate income tax rates will have decreased by 2.8% and individual income tax rates by 1% since April of last year.

The Arkansas special session tax cuts explained

In April 2023, state lawmakers approved more than $100 million in cuts to the top individual and corporate tax rates. During September’s special session, legislators lowered the top individual and top corporate income tax rates from 4.7% to 4.4% and from 5.1% to 4.8%, respectively. They also created a one-time, non-refundable $150 tax credit for those earning up to about $90,000.

The tax cut bills will require $290 million in general revenue to be set aside in a reserve fund on July 2 in case the money is needed to make up for the decrease in state general revenue due to the tax cuts.

No one spoke for or against the homestead tax credit increase before either committee, and the Senate committee passed the proposal with no debate.

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The credit is available to property owners on the property that is their primary residence, reducing their real property tax liability, which is paid at the county level.

The homestead bills propose that on or before Jan. 30 of each year, the state’s chief fiscal officer will report the balance of the Property Tax Relief Trust Fund, whether the fund could support an increase of the homestead property tax credit, and if so, how much of an increase the fund could support.

The trust fund had $255.6 million in it at the end of the 2023 calendar year, Paul Gehring, the finance department’s assistant commissioner of revenue policy and legal, told the House committee Monday.

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Tax cut discussion

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Democratic lawmakers have criticized the proposed income tax cuts for primarily affecting wealthy Arkansans. Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, have said the cuts will keep money in the pockets of working people.

Nicholas Horton, founder and CEO of the conservative group Opportunity Arkansas, spoke in favor of the tax cuts before the House committee. Horton said the government “takes more than it needs,” echoing Rep. Les Eaves, R-Searcy, the House sponsor of both bills.

“Arkansas can’t continue to see $700, $800, $900 million surpluses and not think that we’re over-collecting from our citizens,” Eaves said.

Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, said he hoped lower taxes would give people more resources to band together during disasters, such as the tornadoes that swept through his Northwest Arkansas district in May.

High death rates, unchanging poverty level puts Arkansas among worst states for child well-being

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“What I’ve seen in the last three weeks is the speed of the private industries and individual citizens to give directly to those impacted instantly,” Dees said. “…I believe the best impact that we can have for those in need is to give dollars back to individual citizens so they can give back to their community.”

Keesa Smith-Brantley, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said private entities do help people in difficult times, but not uniformly throughout the state, leaving some regions “severely neglected.”

Smith-Brantley spoke against the tax cut bills before both committees. She referenced the latest KIDS COUNT Data Book, released earlier this month, which shows that most areas of child well-being in Arkansas have been getting worse.

Arkansas’ position at 45th in overall child well-being is down two slots from its ranking the last two years, and the state has ranked as one of the country’s 10 worst states for overall child well-being nine times in the last decade.

Cutting taxes reduces the state’s ability to fund initiatives that would improve child well-being, such as early childhood education and health care for pregnant and postpartum Arkansans, Smith-Brantley said.

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In response to questions from senators, Smith-Brantley noted that some state agencies that serve children and families have received stagnant or less funding over time in the state budget. The Division of Youth Services within the Department of Human Services received a 0.01% funding increase in the state budget that passed during this year’s fiscal session, but “that amount of funding doesn’t actually keep up with inflation,” she said.

“I know that you care about the children of our state and you want them to thrive, and to do so, some of the critical areas in our state need investment,” she told the Senate committee.



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