Arkansas Governor Picks New Education Commisioner

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe will recommend James "Tony" Wood take over as the new commissioner of education for the state.

Wood is currently the deputy commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), but is on the short list of candidates to replace Tom Kimbrell, who will leave his post in June to become superintendent of the Bryant School District, according to a report by TV station KY3.

Wood has been deputy commissioner of the ADE, focusing on finance, legislation and relations with school districts, since 2010. Prior to that, he was superintendent of the Searcy Independent School District for 18 years. He also has experience in Little Rock and Kensett. He has both a bachelor's and master's degree in education from Harding University in Arkansas.

The recommendation is likely to be one of the last major acts of power for Beebe, who is term-limited and cannot run for re-election this year. A Democrat, Beebe has never seen his approval rating drop below 70% despite being opposed by a Republican House and Senate. 

Education reform has been a focus of both of Beebe's terms. In his first term, he put $19 million per year in place for special need students

In 2012, he called for an additional $56 million to the public school budget.

Although Beebe has increased educational spending, the state still has a long way to go. Based on an interactive infographic released by the Washington Times, Arkansas is just 33rd in the nation among state in amount of money spent on public education, which breaks down to $9,353 per student.

Its test scores reflect that. Arkansas eight-graders finished 39th in math test scores, 38th in reading scores, 34th in writing and 29th in science in data collected during 2012-2013.

The state is in the top half of the nation in both high school graduation rate (tied for 19th) and student-teacher ratio (also tied for 19th). The high school graduation rate is 85%, and the student-teacher ratio is 14.07 to 1.

Those figures are countered by the state's two biggest eyesores: teenage pregnancies and college graduates.

Arkansas ranks last among the 50 states in college graduation rate and is tied for 46th in teenage pregnancy rate. Just 19.60% of Arkansas students wind up graduating from college. And 82 out of every 1,000 teenage students winds up getting pregnant as a teenager. Only Texas, Mississippi, Washington D.C., and Nevada have worse teenage pregnancy rates.

Because the ADE commissioner position is an appointed position, recommended by the governor and then approved by a state board, it is unknown whether Wood will remain in the position once a new governor has taken over for Beebe comes next January.

Kimbrell is a 30-year educator who graduated holds degrees from the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University. He is a strong proponent of Common Core.

05 12, 2014
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