Sarah Whites-Koditschek

Reporter

Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a Little Rock-based reporter for Arkansas Public Media covering education, healthcare, state politics, and criminal justice issues.

Sarah regularly files stories for American Public Media's Marketplace and National Public Radio. Her work has appeared on the British Broadcasting Corporation. She has won reporting awards from the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists in Arkansas, as well the Public Radio News Directors Inc. She also won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Regional Award and a first place PRNDI award in 2015.

Sarah was a leader in the formation of Arkansas Public Media, spearheading an application for funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2015. As a reporter, she was a founding member of the project.

Sarah is the FOIA chair for the state's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and serves as a board member for the University of Central Arkansas's C.D. Wright Women Writer's Conference.

Sarah is a graduate of Smith College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and a minor in Spanish. She earned a master’s degree at the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Formerly, she worked as a reporter and producer for WHYY in Philadelphia and as a grant writer and project organizer for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Contact Sarah at sarah@arkansaspublicmedia.org or 501-683-8655.

Ways to Connect

Arkansas Department of Transportation

A final public meeting on plans to expand a 6.7 mile stretch of Interstate 30 in Little Rock took place Thursday evening in North Little Rock. The Arkansas Department of Transportation presented an environmental assessment on the project, which would run through the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The environmental assessment is a nearly 4,000 page report on the proposal to expand I-30 to 10 lanes. Department spokesman Danny Straessle says the $630 million project is necessary to fix unsafe ramps downtown.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas is one of just two states in the country that has criminalized drowsy driving, but it’s almost never enforced.

Just three convictions have occurred under the state’s 2013 law, according to the most recent data from 2016.

To convict someone under the law, a death must occur, and there must be proof a driver had not slept for 24 hours before the accident. New Jersey, the other state that criminalized drowsy driving, requires proof that a driver missed 16 hours of sleep in order to convict them.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Air quality changes made in 2010 raised the threshold for how much air pollution a company can emit without a permit. On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency approved those lower air quality standards. 
 
Chuck Buttry, a board member for the Arkansas Environmental Federation, an industry lobbying group, says the higher threshold allows companies with low pollution levels to make changes, like upgrade equipment, without a long permit process.

LA Johnson / NPR

Shennel Douglas is a nursing student at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She says she hesitated when deciding to study in the U.S. after watching U.S. police shootings of unarmed civilians on television at home in the Caribbean.
 
“Coming to UCA, my main concern was being, what should I say, marginalized? Because not only am I an international student, but also I’m a black international student.”
 
There are now less international students on American college campuses than any time in the last decade.

James White stands in front of what he says will be the site of a small museum memorializing the state’s largest massacre of blacks in 1919.

It’s a boarded up storefront — a brick corner building on the main drag of downtown Elaine, Arkansas, a town of just over 600 people in the Arkansas Delta.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Children whose families immigrated from the Marshall Islands to Arkansas are eligible for publicly-subsidized health insurance in the state for the first time this year. Healthcare advocates are pushing, uphill at the outset, to get them enrolled.

The extension of healthcare benefits for Marshallese kids is tied to a long history. The United States tested over 60 nuclear bombs on the Marshall Islands in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It caused long-term health and environmental damage according to some studies.  That's one reason that the Marshallese started to leave the island.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas is at the forefront of a national experiment to see whether requiring work for health care coverage helps lift people out of poverty.
 
Starting next month, many who are on the state’s low-income health care program, Arkansas Works, must show they are working, volunteering, in school, or getting job training for at least 80 hours each month. The Arkansas Department of Human Services estimates 42,000 Arkansans will be impacted.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Over the last 15 years, residents of Little Rock have lost some hope that educational opportunity for kids of color is the same or equal to that of white kids. That’s according to an annual study on racial attitudes put out by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

The survey is focused on education this year, and it found that while 60 percent of whites think integration benefits everyone, only 42 percent of blacks in Little Rock agree. But all city residents increasingly agree that  school education isn’t equal. University historian John Kirk led the survey.

He says one reason whites and blacks see more inequality in Little Rock than they did in his first survey 15 years ago is that demographics of the city have changed.

David Goldman / NPR/AP

Arkansas has seen a record number of flu deaths this year, 215, and the severity of the virus has taken Arkansans by surprise.

State chief epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow says the health department doesn’t really know why there were more deaths this year, but one reason could be that Influenza B dominated this year, and it is more deadly that Influenza A.

Seth Perlman/AP / National Public Radio

Central Arkansas Water says residents in older homes with lead service pipes will have them replaced this year.

The utility reviewed nearly 6,000 pipes. Just 143 in the area were found to be lead pipes, and a third of those have now been updated.

Jake Harper / Side Effects Public Media

State and local leaders are considering how best to treat Arkansas’s opioid crisis if their coalition lawsuit succeeds against opioid drug makers and distributors.

A group of Arkansas cities and counties made national headlines when it came together last week to launch a lawsuit against 65 opioid drug makers, distributors, and others.

Colin Jorgensen is an attorney for the Arkansas Association of Counties who worked on the lawsuit. He says the case seeks a payout large enough to fix the state’s growing opioid epidemic.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A bill is up for vote by the general assembly  that would protect hog farmers from lawsuits for certain environmental issues once their waste permits are approved.

The legislation was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly today, and it's meant to reassure hog farmers as well as the banks who lend them money.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In 2005, Jaime Mann was cited for several traffic violations in Craighead County — not having insurance, not wearing a seatbelt, and hazardous driving. She was charged about $500. She paid some of it, but then she started racking up fees and fines for the money and community service hours she owed.  
 
"And then it started spiraling out of control, and I was so mad, I remember, because I thought, ‘I paid this ticket,'" she said.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers have a couple more weeks in this year’s budgeting session to re-approve funding for Arkansas Works, the state’s healthcare program for low-income people. Yet, a handful of state senators and their votes to continue the program remain on the fence.

Arkansas Works  covers about 285,564 low-income people. It also brings in federal dollars that are important to the state budget. The Arkansas Department of Human Services says it would cost the state $148.9 million extra in fiscal year 2019 to continue serving the program’s population without the federal match from Arkansas Works.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A row of men and one woman stood with guns raised to face paper silhouettes of a torso while their trainer counts off for them to shoot. The Arkansas Armory in Sherwood was holding one of its first shooting exams for the state's new enhanced concealed carry permit this month.

Applicants were aiming to hit an unmoving target 70 percent of the time, but they were also preparing for potentially more chaotic live scenarios as part of Arkansas’s new enhanced concealed carry license. It's for places like college campuses, the state capitol, restaurants, and churches. The license requires a shooting test and eight hours of training that includes, among other topics, what to do and not do in the event of an active shooter.

Chris Hickey / KUAR News

This week lawmakers came to the capitol for a special session to discuss the budget. To vote on anything outside of the budget during a fiscal session, a two-thirds majority must agree, but that bar hasn’t stopped some lawmakers.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called for a $180 million annual tax cut for the state’s biggest earners during his State of the State address Monday kicking off the 2018 fiscal session.
 
Hutchinson said the goal is to compete with other states for business investors. He said that at a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, he was asked how much top earners pay in Arkansas state taxes.

"And I said, ‘Well, it’s 6.9 percent, and they looked at me and responded, ‘That is worse than Connecticut.’ That story emphasizes the competitive nature of taxes in a mobile society.”

Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The State Medical Board wants to tighten restrictions on doctors’ abilities to prescribe opioids in some instances, and one of the changes is that patients will be asked for a urine sample for drug testing.
 
Arkansas has the second-highest opioid prescription rate nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the proposed regulations are part of an effort to combat the deadly overdose crisis in the state.

Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane told the medical board at a hearing for public comments Thursday that opioid abuse, particularly heroin use, is going up, and overdoses are increasing.

Katherine Streeter / National Public Radio

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Arkansas the most obese state in the nation in 2014, the state’s weight epidemic is now leveling off, and health officials hope obesity rates will start to go down.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

As U.S. Senate Democrats consider blocking budget funding to push for immigration legislation, Arkansas advocates are asking U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to support legislation that would protect young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, so called “Dreamers.”

The Trump Administration announced plans to end the program this fall.

Public Education funds in Arkansas are meeting bare minimums set under law and not getting any extra money in the governor’s proposed budget for next year.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key fielded lawmakers’ questions and concerns about the proposed budget at a Joint Budget Committee hearing on education funding Wednesday in advance of February’s fiscal session.

Governor's Office / You Tube

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson presented his $5.6 billion budget proposal to state lawmakers Tuesday ahead of this year’s fiscal session and outlined his longer-term vision for reducing taxes.

Hutchinson says there is a projected surplus of $64 million in the new state budget, partly because of higher than expected revenues. He says he’s using the majority of the extra money to create a reserve fund that only the legislature can tap into.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The Arkansas Plant Board has doubled down on its plan to ban Dicamba, the agricultural weed killer. The vote Wednesday was a slight rebuke of state Rep. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs) and colleagues on a legislative subcommittee that last month asked the board to reconsider the ban, specifically the April 15 cutoff date for spraying Monsanto’s controversial herbicide.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

As Congress hashes out the final details of its tax bill this week, a $250 tax credit for teachers who buy classroom supplies has been returned following a public outcry over an earlier draft that had removed it.
 
Kyla Lawrence is a high school Social Studies teacher at the North Little Rock Academy. She buys extra pencils, paper, binders and basic school supplies for her students throughout the year.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

State lawmakers took a step toward enhanced concealed carry on college campuses Friday in spite of some pushback from firearm trainers who don’t want to be required to teach the new class for compensation they say is too low.
 
State Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) was among the majority of lawmakers who voted to approve the plan anyway.

“You know, when this is done, there will be less gun-free zones which are soft targets in Arkansas. There will be more people, carrying in more places, being able to protect themselves and others in more places when this rule is implemented. That’s called liberty,” he said at Friday’s legislative council meeting.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Eric Westcott is the manager of Central Rental and Supply, a construction equipment company that sits about three miles from Premium Protein Products, a meat rendering plant that turns animal carcasses into pet food.  

“Imagine the most disgusting smell you’ve ever smelled in your life and then add the heat, and that’s what we deal with here in Russellville,” he said.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Brad Graham is driving his truck along the edge of a catfish pond near Lake Village, blowing a soybean grain mixture into the water.

“My stepdad was into fish farming, and I just decided I wanted to do a little bit of farming,” he says.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In Brinkley, halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, Sandra Kemmer is volunteering in a local cafe to promote the area’s economy by giving out rice products on metal trays.

“Hey ya’ll. You can have some cookies when you come back; it’s rice month,” she tells a couple passing by her stand.

Agriculture is the center of life here, but for decades rural towns like Brinkley have been dwindling and with them a linchpin of daily life, the town newspaper.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas soybean farmers who rely on a chemical called Dicamba to kill weeds must stop using it during the growing season next year. That’s because it has allegedly been drifting to neighboring farms and killing crops.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Victims of Hurricane Maria are weighing the possibility of a fresh start in Arkansas this winter.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is among a handful of schools on the United States’ mainland offering tuition help to Puerto Rican students whose universities were damaged and closed after the storm.

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