By Scott Pendleton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
IN this community of sagging shacks and half-buried tires, Helen Williams is teaching Clara Dobbins educational games. It's a small activity that's indicative of Arkansas bootstrapping itself out of poverty.
Ms. Williams, from The Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), is showing Ms. Dobbins how to teach her four-year-old the names of colors and shapes.
Unlike many low-income children who start kindergarden without these skills, HIPPY children "take off with a bang," says Williams, once a program participant herself.
In Arkansas, HIPPY just doubled to 4,500 families - more than in all other states combined, thanks to funding from a state education bill pushed by Gov. Bill Clinton.
Results from yesterday's New Hampshire Democratic primary will show whether voters paid more heed to candidate Clinton's alleged draft-dodging and marital infidelity or to his campaign positions and record as the nation's longest-serving governor. Governor's achievements
Clinton's welfare reforms are moving hundreds of people per month off the dole and back into the workplace. His economic development efforts caused manufacturing jobs to increase at 11 times the national rate from 1985 to 1989.
Half of his staff have been women and a quarter have been African American during his tenure. He increased by fivefold State Highway Department spending with minority contractors.
Above all, Clinton has crusaded to improve the state education system. In 1978, when he first moved into the governor's mansion (he was ousted in 1980 but returned in 1982), out-of-state consultant Kern Alexander concluded that Arkansas children would be better off educated almost anywhere else.
Back then, rural, agriculture-oriented Arkansans spent little on education, says Dr. Alexander, now a professor at Virginia Tech. Then Clinton "instituted a dialogue that the people of Arkansas had never had before regarding the value of education," Alexander says.
The public change of attitude was "quite remarkable," he noticed on return visits to the state. "I would have to give a strong vote of confidence" to Clinton's handling of education, Alexander says. Other states with greater resources have done less, he adds.
Observers also credit Clinton's wife, Hillary, who spearheaded much of the work on education reform. It was she who learned of Israeli-designed HIPPY in 1986 and brought it to Arkansas. Reform a tough fight
Clinton fought for and passed major reform legislation in 1983 and 1989. "The odds were really against him," says Robert Steel, news director at KARK-TV. "You should see our legislature in action."
The wealthy and the business lobby prevented him from increasing personal and corporate income taxes to fund his reforms. Instead, Clinton had to settle for raising the sales tax, which falls hardest on the poor. But he also passed tax cuts for the poor and elderly.
His education reforms raised teacher pay but weeded out incompetent instructors, required eighth-graders to pass a test before going on to high school, shrank class sizes, and mandated that all districts offer college prerequisite courses in math and science. Dropouts younger than 18 faced the possibility of having their driver's license suspended, while parents who refused to attend conferences with teachers could be fined. …