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Elizabeth Hartline Green

Where do the candidates stand on education? Mike Huckabee on education.

Mike_Huckabee_portrait.jpgThis is the fifth installment in an ongoing series on where the candidates stand on education.

Today’s topic is former Governor Mike Huckabee. Again, as Huckabee was a governor and not a legislator, the analysis of his educational stances will differ from that of candidates who did not serve as governor because governors are in a better position to shape educational policy than other elected officials.

Gov. Huckabee’s background as a Baptist minister is reflected in some, though certainly not all, of his educational policies. He supports displaying the 10 Commandments in public schools, “character education” (pdf) in schools, and abstinence-only sex education programs but, despite his personal belief that evolution did not happen, promises to not try to exclude evolution from public school curriculum. Indeed, evolution is a part of the Arkansas biology curriculum, and there was no addition of concepts like creationism or intelligent design under Huckabee’s leadership. And, unlike most Republican candidates, he does not support vouchers, under the premise that the public should not have to pay for private education.

Gov. Huckabee believes that one of the keys to improving educational quality is to improve teacher quality. He supports policies that allow schools to dismiss teachers more easily than standard union contracts allow, and takes credit for passing the Teacher Fair Dismissal Law (though the law was originally passed in 1983, and Gov. Huckabee came into office in 1996). He supports testing teacher competency, making teachers wait longer to get tenure, and hazard and merit pay.

Funding is a big issue for Gov. Huckabee. Arkansas has low educational spending compared to other states, but out of all states spends the largest percentage of personal income on education. This is mostly due to a funding lawsuit while Huckabee was governor. The State of Arkansas was sued for inadequately funding schools, and as a result had to significantly increase funding to schools. School funding and adequacy lawsuits have been brought in almost every state, though, and often have to do with funding formulas that have been in place since the inception of public schooling, so the lawsuit probably should not be taken as reflective of Huckabee’s educational leadership abilities. Either way, Gov. Huckabee has repeatedly stated that quality should not be confused with the amount spent on schools, and generally does not support a blanket increase to educational spending. Gov. Huckabee believes that school financing and most educational policies should be left to states, and not the federal government, a fairly common stance amongst governors (though Huckabee supports No Child Left Behind).

Partially as a result of this lawsuit, the program in Arkansas that provides free preschool to low-income children was expanded under Gov. Huckabee. Huckabee has not expressed support for universal preschool, so it is likely that he does not intend to initiate a universal preschool program.

Arkansas, like most Southern states, does poorly on national tests (pdf), but has the third highest African-American graduation rate in the country, at 67%. Additionally, performance of students in Arkansas as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress rose under Gov. Huckabee, making Arkansas one of the top ten “most improved” states in both math and reading in 4th and 8th grades. Some of this rise may be due to the increased educational funding, but no studies have yet been done on this topic.

Gov. Huckabee’s favorite educational issue is increasing funding and access for arts and music programs (not surprisingly, as he is in a band). Gov. Huckabee increased funding for music and art education in his state, and made arts education the focus while he was the Chairman of the Education Commission of the States (an organization comprised of state leaders nationwide) from 2004 to 2006. Every chairman has an initiative while in office, and Gov. Huckabee was the first to focus his initiative on the arts.

Overall, Gov. Huckabee saw improvements to education while the governor of Arkansas, and supports popular reform initiatives like charter schools. However, many of the improvements to Arkansas’ educational system were not initiated by Gov. Huckabee or, in the case of increased funding, something that he had any control over. While Gov. Huckabee deserves credit for not pulling a Pataki with school funding, it is almost certain he would not have changed the school finance system without a court order—this seems be indicative of a reactionary nature that most of his school policy takes.

Elizabeth Hartline Green: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:00 AM, Aug 18, 2007 in Candidates on Education | Education
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