Batesville Area Chamber and ForwARd Arkansas celebrate new law using excess state lottery funds for scholarships

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On Friday, leaders from the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce and ForwARd Arkansas gathered in Independence County to celebrate their success in championing a new law, Act 456, the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship. Co-sponsored by Sen. James Sturch (R), Act 456 will use excess Arkansas Lottery proceeds to fund scholarships that encourage high school students to obtain college credits and career training credentials.

“The passage of the concurrent credit scholarship was vitally important for students across our state to access the same opportunities,” said Sen. Sturch. “It will ultimately standardize what courses are taught, how they’re delivered and how much they cost.”

Act 456, which passed this legislative session, was inspired by a similar initiative “Independence Promise” created in Independence County and funded locally by generous donors and businesses last year.

“Independence Promise” was created as part of the IMPACT Independence County strategic community plan. In the first semester of the program launch, more than 150 Independence County high school students participated, earning a collective 648 hours of college credit and achieving a 94 percent course completion rate.

“We are thrilled to see this initiative created here in Independence County expand statewide,” said Crystal Johnson, president and CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are grateful to Senator Sturch for his leadership in advancing Act 456 and for his support of students and families all over Arkansas.”

Johnson was on hand Friday with other local dignitaries at a ceremonial ribbon cutting held at the chamber.

Community input from a series of ForwARd Together Conversations convened by ForwARd Arkansas locally and throughout the state last spring to inform the development of statewide policies to improve education outcomes for all Arkansas students also informed the development of “Independence Promise” and the idea of expanding the initiative statewide.

“These conversations, where citizens imagined ways to increase equitable access to educational opportunity and to ensure that all Arkansas students, including those who plan on pursuing a college degree, are “employable” or career-ready, were the inspiration for “Independence Promise’ and ultimately Act 456,” said Susan Bonesteel Harriman, ForwARd Arkansas executive director. “The Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship will give high school juniors and seniors throughout the state an additional incentive to begin thinking about and planning for college or additional career training before they graduate.”

Under the scholarship, eligible high school students may be awarded $125 per course for up to two endorsed concurrent enrollment credit courses per semester at eligible two-year or four-year public and private, nonprofit colleges or universities.

IMPACT Independence County is a strategic community plan for Independence County, Arkansas, developed by the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Lyon College, the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville and county residents. The plan is intended to improve the quality of life, quality of place and economic opportunities for all residents and is made up of four areas of focus: economic prosperity, tourism, educational excellence, and healthy living and wellbeing. For more information, please visit IMPACTIndependenceCounty.com.

ForwARd Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a partnership of education, business, government and community leaders committed to improving public education in Arkansas. This partnership has conducted extensive research and continues to encourage statewide discussion and bold action to strengthen public education. ForwARd was established through a partnership between the Arkansas Board of Education, the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. For more information, please visit forwardarkansas.org.

For more information about the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship, contact Johnson at (870) 793-2378.

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