Democratic nominee for governor Jared Henderson Thursday (Aug. 9) proposed a one-year, 10% minimum teacher salary increase along with a 10-year goal of making Arkansas teachers the highest paid in the nation relative to the state’s cost of living.
By year 10, Arkansas teachers would earn an average of $71,967 under Henderson’s proposal, while the minimum salary would be $48,000. The state’s teacher salaries would be benchmarked against Michigan’s, which Henderson said is the nation’s top teacher-paying state relative to the state’s cost of living.
The one-year 10% increase is needed because Arkansas teacher salaries have fallen more than 7% in real terms since 2009, Henderson said. His campaign cited the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics as the source of that claim. That increase would be followed by 3.6% increases each of the next nine years.
Henderson said the proposal would cost $160 million over the next two years, which he said would be significantly less than Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed tax breaks. Over the next decade, the state’s total teacher salaries would increase 50% so that total teacher salaries would rise $870 million to $2.45 billion. Of that, $340 million would reflect inflation.
The rest – roughly $540 million – would come from a variety of sources, including reducing the state’s prison population. Henderson said he would release proposals for doing that at a later date. He said no tax increase would be required.
“This is doable, and in the short-term, it is extremely doable. It is more about our choices than it is about our resources,” he said in a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Little Rock.
Prior to running for governor, Henderson recruited professionals to teach in high-poverty areas as Teach for America’s Arkansas executive director.
Henderson said teachers don’t work harder when they are paid more, but some are struggling financially. Increasing teacher pay would make it easier to keep good teachers and will attract more, and more talented, people to the profession.
“Pay by itself is not a silver bullet, but it is one really important component of what makes the profession attractive and sustainable, and it’s also frankly the most concrete, which is why we wanted to lead with it, to show that we’re serious,” he said.
Jamie Barker, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s press secretary, criticized the proposal, saying Henderson “wants to base increased spending on speculation and abandoning our commitment to public safety. The governor’s plan to increase starting teacher pay to the highest in the region while also making our income tax rates competitive is building on what he has accomplished in his first term when we raised teacher pay twice and cut taxes for over 90% of working-class Arkansans.”
The Libertarian candidate for governor, Mark West, said Henderson’s proposal “maintains a centralized, top-down control over the education of our children that is better handled locally and privately.” He said it would not help many rural districts that have aging and underutilized facilities and high debts.
West said he would release his education plans Aug. 20 with a Facebook Town Hall.
Henderson also said in his press conference that the state should attract teachers to high-needs subjects and school districts by offering financial incentives and loan forgiveness. He said he talked to a math teacher in eastern Arkansas who learned yesterday that he will teach five different subjects, for which he’ll have to prepare, and that students will still have to take some math classes online.
“This is the reality that our educators and many of our children are facing,” he said. “If we do not act boldly, it will become more and more common, and it is already unacceptable.”
He said the state should partner with local school districts to improve counseling and mental health services so teachers can focus on their classrooms. Administrative burdens for teachers should also be reduced.
“For the last 20 years, from Washington to Little Rock on down, we have tried to manage our teachers to success,” he said. “We buried them in new tests and new teacher evaluation systems. We’ve done so many things. While they were often well-intentioned and sometimes even had smart designs, in practice, they’ve buried our teachers in a lot of extra work. They’ve separated them from their kids. They’ve drained their mental and emotional energy, and they’ve told them implicitly that they’re not respected across the country.”
Henderson also pledged to protect the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, which he said is “one of the biggest things we have gotten right in this state.”