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In Praise of Pragmatism (Editorial)

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In the furor surrounding the final days of the legislative session, a couple of important worker education reforms could be overlooked. They shouldn’t be for two reasons: They promise to be effective, helping match businesses in Arkansas with capable employees (and capable employees with good jobs), and they demonstrate what bipartisanship can accomplish.

Arkansas Business last year reported on state Sen. Jane English’s trade of her vote for the private option insurance plan for then-Gov. Mike Beebe’s support for her effort to transform workforce training in the state. English, a Republican from North Little Rock, saw that Arkansas had a number of worker education programs but that they lacked coordination, leading to a duplication of services. In addition, the programs often failed to seek the input of business and industry about their actual needs.

English sponsored two bills to address these problems, SB 891 and SB 368. Both were signed into law.

She told Arkansas Business last week she thought SB 368 was the most significant. It replaces the Career Education Board with the Career Education & Workforce Development Board. The former board had seven members; the new panel will have up to 13 members appointed by the governor. Board members will represent various business sectors in Arkansas; they will be the people who have the jobs that need filling. The governor will chair the board.

English thinks some of her legislative colleagues figured she’d traded her private option vote for empty promises, but she found support for reform from Beebe and his successor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and ultimately, the Legislature. “People … knew they wanted something different for their own part of the state and their own communities that they represent.”

She added: “It wasn’t one of those things you had to get up and yell and scream about.”

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