Senate Education Committee chair says teacher pay needs to wait on adequacy study

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,710 views 

State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said it is important to follow the process of an adequacy study to raise teacher salaries in Arkansas.

The chair of the Senate Education Committee, Irvin said she has legal concerns if Arkansas lawmakers deviate from the formula that came from the 2004 Lake View case.

“… Legally, my concern is if you start to pick and choose one category outside of that adequacy process, I don’t think that that’s really following what the court wanted us to do, and so that is a huge concern from a legal standpoint, that you’re right in the middle of a study, you’re right in the middle of the process, and you picked out one category of expenditure and you didn’t take into consideration all the expenditures and the funding needed for public school in its totality, which is exactly what the Lakeview case was really all about,” she said.

“Our budget process and our revenue stabilization process is a process that’s thoughtful and that dictates priority spending, and is a planning mechanism for upcoming general assemblies, and so moving outside of that or throwing something kind of into that in midstream could potentially mess up other needs in state government,” Irvin added.

This past week, state legislators pushed for close to $500 million from the American Rescue Plan to be tapped for teacher and school staff one-time bonuses of $2,500 to $5,000. They contend the federal law allows the money to be spent in a variety of ways aimed at recruitment and retention.

A Dec. 16, 2021 memo from the U.S. Department of Education outlines several ways that ARP funds have been spent ranging from one-time bonuses for teachers and staff, compensation for staff shortages in key fields, and money to recruit substitute educators and luring retirees back into the workforce due to COVID-19. A state Education Department memo provided guidance to local school districts warning that the federal funds should not be spent on non-COVID related expenses.

Many teacher pay advocates argue that waiting for the adequacy study to be completed and setting teacher salary increases in the next regular session will delay those hikes another school year. Meanwhile, surrounding states have raised teachers’ minimum salaries above Arkansas’ $36,000 floor.

Irvin said she’s not concerned that timing will impact teacher recruitment and retainment and she argued that other factors may be more important for stabilizing the teacher workforce.

“I don’t believe we’re in crisis mode,” Irvin said. “I do believe that, and actually I was in a conversation with one of my Democratic colleagues in the Senate, and she was absolutely right when she talked about, there are more reasons why teachers are not moving to certain areas and that really stems to economic development and opportunities in those areas.”

“This is not something that just the Education Committee can solve. This is something that the entire legislature really has to dig in and understand, and we have to do such a better job at really growing our rural economies and growing those areas that are very, very difficult right now,” she added.

You can watch Sen. Irvin’s full interview in the video below.