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. Formerly she worked as a reporter and producer for WHYY in Philadelphia, and was an intern and editorial assistant for Morning Edition at National Public Radio in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

Sarah is a graduate of Smith College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. She was a student at the Stabile Center For Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

She has won awards from the Associated Press in Arkansas as well the Public Radio News Directors Inc.

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

Ways to Connect

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

A bill to cap the number of enrollees in the state’s Medicaid expansion pool at its current rate, roughly 332,000, is progressing through the Arkansas legislature despite violating federal law.

HB1465, sponsored by Rep. Josh Miller, (R-Herber Springs), passed the full House earlier this month and is scheduled to go before the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor committee Wednesday.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

They sit in rows, 150 closely shaven men in yellow uniforms and white identification badges, before opposing walls, in a cinder-block walled gymnasium.  

A selected group of four sit in plastic chairs forming a circle before their co-residents. Two stand up and shake hands, and the others say, “Squash it!” and clap.

These residents at Little Rock’s all-male Community Corrections Center have a daily ritual, a conflict resolution practice, meant to teach them interpersonal skills before they return to the real world.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is endorsing a proposal to end the dual recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day each year.

He took to the lectern Wednesday to say that, as Americans celebrate the slain Civil Rights icon, residents of the state are presented with a choice.

“That choice that is there, it divides us as Arkansans and as a nation,” Hutchinson said.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Schools in Arkansas get $6,600 for every student. So when kids leave a public school, the money leaves too. The state chips in temporarily to cover the financial loss, but a pair of lawmakers want to end that.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Public school districts in Arkansas regularly buy and sell property, pending approval of local education boards, of course. But today, the Arkansas Senate approved a bill that would take some of that control away.

Senate Bill 308 would allow charter schools the right to purchase or lease unused public school buildings, a seemingly small concession that nonetheless raises big questions about local versus state control of schools and inspired a heated back and forth between senators this week.

Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said Tuesday that some public school districts let buildings sit empty, a misfortune he equated to murdering a building.

“We have had schools literally rot to the ground rather than let someone use them for educational purposes. That should never happen.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) had a lot of questions for Clark. She told a Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill is heavy handed, and she said it takes local control from public districts.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Under a bill that cleared the Senate Education Committee Tuesday on a voice vote, all private schools would be given public funds to take special needs kids if parents so choose, even if they haven’t achieved what’s called “accreditation.”

The Arkansas Department of Education says it can take four years to get that status. State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D- Little Rock) says accreditation is evidence that the schools are doing a good job.

“I don’t think you do it by allowing kids to be put some place for four years that’s not accredited and may never be accredited.”

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Teachers in Arkansas’s lowest paying districts could see a small pay bump in their salaries soon.

A bill to increase minimum teacher salary in Arkansas is headed to the Senate Education Committee. It would bring the lowest paid Arkansas teachers up $400 dollars from the current $31,000 minimum.

Yang family

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday to send a case against the city of Little Rock's 911 and Metro EMS services to trial court.

The decision was based on the city's failure to adequately prove and document its insurance policy to a lower court, thereby voiding its claim to sovereign immunity, which would protect it from civil suits.

Tim McKuin

The Arkansas Supreme Court heard a case Thursday that may foreshadow legal battles over LGBTQ protections between state and local governments nationwide.

A 2015 state law banned anti-discrimination ordinances on any basis not already included in Arkansas law. Now lawyers for the state are suing the City of Fayetteville to invalidate its municipal ordinance protecting LGBTQ citizens.

Oral arguments on both sides pivoted on what constitutes an existing protected class in the state constitution.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Update:

A bill that would defund Arkansas universities, were they to shelter undocumented immigrant students from federal law enforcement in the course of a criminal investigation, failed on a voice vote before the House Education Committee Tuesday morning.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

  

Renee Green stays home with her 7-year-old disabled son, Adam, who has seizures throughout the day and cannot communicate or eat. She recently quit her job in human resources to care for Adam full time using coverage obtained through the Affordable Care Act.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek/Arkansas Public Media

In Washington the Republican-controlled Congress is speeding toward a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While GOP leadership at the Arkansas state Capitol has said lawmakers should wait and see what happens, some conservative members of the legislature want action now.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas has the fastest growing inmate population of any state nationwide, and it's forced the formation of a task force to propose reforms. Now that task force is asking for the policymaking powers of the General Assembly to achieve its aims.

Arkansas should move low-level offenders into community programs where data shows they are half as likely to re-offend, according to a consultant's report.

Board of Corrections chairman Benny Magness says the state has no choice.

“We have to do something, because we’re not going to be able to continue to build ourselves out of this. We have to continue to look at things. And we’ve been struggling with this for ten years, to find other ways to slow this population down.”

Michael Hibblen / KUAR

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’s secured federal approval to keep the state’s public/private healthcare partnership, renamed “Arkansas Works," but a debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act continues at the federal level, and Arkansas’s budget remains deeply dependent on federal money from “Obamacare.”

In 2014 Hutchinson was elected on a promise to dismantle the state’s Obamacare model. This week he traveled to Washington for federal approval to keep and tweak it.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Davida Walls never thought she would be teaching high school biology, let alone in the first few months after graduating from college at 22.

“Teaching was not my initial goal. It was kind of an opportunity that just, you know, became available so I took it.”

She is trying to decide whether to become a doctor or a nurse, and plans to apply for a program to train for one or the other this year.

Family of Jeremiah Adams

At 8 years old, Jeremiah Adams is starting to read for the first time. He was delayed several years in public school because of his slow reading, but his family says this new private school is changing him. He notices his surroundings in new ways, approaches learning differently, even insists on going to school.

“Before where he wouldn’t even pick up a book, now he wants to read," says grandmother Petra Delarosa. "Now we’re driving to school, he’ll see a word like on a billboard or something he’ll say, ‘Nana, how do you say this?’ ‘Nana did I say that right?' 'What does that mean, Nana?' Before he wouldn’t do that at all.”

This fall, Adams is one of 100 special education students around the state who moved from public schools to private ones under Arkansas’s first voucher program, the Succeeds Scholarship.

The program was approved during the 2015 legislative session with an initial $800,000 in public funding to be managed by the Reform Alliance, a Walton Family Foundation project.

Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Legislators Monday missed a deadline to agree on a plan for education funding increases known as "adequacy."

A 22 year-old Arkansas Supreme Court decision, commonly referred to as "Lake View," requires lawmakers to fund education adequately before other appropriations are taken up. But lawmakers in the education committee were unable to agree about how much of a funding boost to give to schools.

Johnelle Shaw is a 27-year-old first-time mother with a two-month old son, Logan. She is visiting a lactation consultant at The Pulaski County Health Unit in Southwest Little Rock. Logan has a cold and is back for a breastfeeding check-in.  The consultant weighs him in at 7.6 ounces, a full pound bigger than he was at his last visit a month before.

Kindergarteners
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Marvell-Elaine schools bus driver Larry Greer’s route twists through the Arkansas Delta, between the White and Mississippi Rivers. “All together I go from Elaine to Snow Lake, 65 miles round trip,” he said, while elementary school kids filed onto his bus for the afternoon ride home.

These are country bus stops along country roads. The way is long. In the morning, Greer says, he will wait only so long at an empty stop before he snaps his levered doors closed again. “If they don’t come out, they’re not going that day.”

Funding cuts for mental health services through Medicaid are taking effect October 1, despite a last-ditch effort at the state legislature Friday to walk back a change that some say could have dire consequences.

The cuts, finalized last week, would limit group therapy length from an hour and a half to an hour and set a cap of 25 counseling visits per year for Medicaid recipients who might otherwise go every week.

The vote to revisit the decision failed to gain two thirds from the Arkansas Legislative Council Friday morning.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

University of Arkansas Medical Sciences sonography student Debra Howell is a nontraditional 35-year-old whose father came from Belize. She has one more year to finish her bachelor’s degree. In addition to a 40-hour a week residency, Howell must find time to study — and care for her kids. She works 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays as an X-ray technician.

Arkansas’s Legislature took a step toward its pledge to trim $835 million from the state’s Medicaid budget over five years today when it voted to limit group therapy for about 10,000 low-income Arkansans from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, 25 times a year.

The third leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer is medical errors, a set of Johns Hopkins University researchers concluded in a paper published this spring in The BMJ. So how much should we be able to sue for our pain and suffering when doctors make mistakes, and should the state legislature get to decide?

Goats
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

At Hot Springs National Park, rangers are fighting to protect an ecosystem besieged by invasive species, and recently, they turned to a biological weapon, a mercenary army whose absence of mercy is matched only by their competitiveness around food.

Mary Stafford started out a few years ago by keeping a herd of goats at her house in Vilonia. She says they make great pets. They have big personalities and puckish charm.