Democrats tout teacher pay raise proposal, ask governor to add to special session call

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 3,471 views 

Democrats in the Arkansas Legislature released a plan Thursday (July 28) to raise teacher salaries by $4,000 and to raise the minimum teacher salary in state from $36,000 to $42,000. The plan would tap up to $600 million from the state’s $1.6 billion surplus, which leaders contend a fund can be created to sustain the pay raises indefinitely.

Democrats are asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson to include the proposal in his call for an Aug. 9th special session to cut taxes.

Known as the RAISE Act – Raising Arkansas’s Investment in Schools and Educators – the Democratic plan would:

  • Create a Teacher Pay Sustainability Fund (TPSF) to allow for an immediate and sustainable increase in teacher pay. The availability of other funding streams for teacher pay means that the $600 million in the TPSF would be needed primarily in the short term, then less as other funding streams increase, and then none at all, Democrats contend.
  • Tap a major category of school district funding – the “foundation funding” determined by “the matrix” – on a biennial basis. Based on recent history, Democrats project a biennial increase in foundation funding of approximately $225 per pupil. Slightly over half of this increase is attributed to teacher salaries based on the proportion of overall foundation funding that is used for teacher salaries.
  • Utilize an estimated $60 million per year identified by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE).

“Based on these projections, the TPSF would only need to be utilized through FY 2027. After FY 2027, the $42,000 minimum teacher salary could be afforded solely by increases in foundation funding and ADE additional revenues with no further contribution necessary from the TPSF,” a press release from Democratic leadership stated. “Furthermore, the TPSF would have a balance of over $200 million after FY 2027, a comfortable cushion that would help ensure that the raises are funded even in the case of deviation from current projections.”

“We ask so much of our teachers. They often spend money out of their own pocket for basic classroom supplies. As much as they love what they do, many are leaving the profession or moving to states that pay their teachers adequately. We have to do much more to ensure that we are recruiting and retaining great teachers. That starts with a fair salary,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, a former public school teacher.

“We all want a more skilled workforce, a growing economy, and stronger communities. All this starts with great teachers, which is why we’ve got to offer salaries that match our expectations, their qualifications, and the demands of the regional market. We don’t have to lag behind our neighboring states,” said Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock.

“Republican legislative leaders have said they expect foundation funding to eventually increase. We are glad to hear that and expect the same,” said Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, a former public school teacher. “But we can’t afford to wait. Our fund fills in the gap to allow teachers to get a raise right now, while we’re waiting for foundation funding to catch up to the needs of our teachers and state.”

“After raising teacher pay, we can use our remaining billion-dollar surplus for other essential needs like adequately paying our bus drivers, custodians, and other classified and support staff. The RAISE Act is a big step toward improving education throughout our state, but it’s just the beginning of what we need to do,” said Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna.

Democrats said they met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson Thursday and urged him to back the RAISE Act and include teacher raises in his call for an anticipated August special session.

“The House and Senate leadership has indicated that there is insufficient support among the members for a teacher pay increase in a special session. For that reason, there is no plan to add it to the call,” the governor said in a Thursday afternoon statement.