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
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.
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
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
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. …