There is much talk of transforming education funding in several directions under new conservative executive and legislative leadership, but Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, doesn’t think consensus will arrive on the subject until lawmakers officially meet in January.
Davis, a member of the Senate Education Committee and likely lead sponsor of potential education reform measures, appeared on this week’s edition of Capitol View. She said minimum and average teacher salaries will go up, but the final numbers are elusive right now.
“We know that currently in the [funding] matrix, we give school districts upwards of $73,000 a year towards base salary, insurance benefits for teachers, but there’s no enforcement of that. It’s a funding matrix and directive, but not a spending directive,” Davis said. “And so I think we need to look at that. I also think we need to see what we can do to pay our teachers competitively. I mean, nobody argues that our teachers shouldn’t be paid more. We all know how hard they work and we need to look at compensating them correctly for that work.”
When asked about salary levels being discussed in preliminary meetings, Davis said it’s unclear.
“We’re just looking at ways that we can ensure teachers are paid adequately. So what that ends up ultimately looking like, I don’t have the answers for that yet, and none of us do. It’s something that we’re working on together, but I certainly think that we’ll see that addressed come January,” she said.
Education changes will be high on the priority list in the 94th General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 9th. Gov.-elect Sarah Sanders has said reading improvement and school choice will be top priorities. Other legislative leaders have indicated that teacher pay will be increased now that the biennial school adequacy study has been completed.
Davis said that lessening the bureaucracy and adding more resources to help teachers work more closely with young children on reading will find its way into legislation. Particularly, policy makers want to see improvement in reading proficiency by the 4th grade.
“I think that we look at ways that we can support teachers and make sure they’re all trained in the science of reading. It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last several years, of course, but I think there’s a lot of different things that we can be doing, and we’ll see how those flush out over time and how they actually end up in the bill. I just know all options are being looked at for ways that we can empower our teachers,” she said.
Davis suggested that literacy coaches may be funded to help struggling students who have fallen behind.
“I think having more literacy coaches maybe to support our teachers where they need it. And so that’s one thing that’s very general. There’s a lot of ways to flesh that out and see what that looks like for school districts and for the classroom. But I think just making sure our teachers have that support in helping their kids read proficiently,” Davis said.
On the issue of school choice, all options seem to be on the table. Some have argued for more competition among public schools, others have advocated for more options for charter schools, and there is debate to allow public school money to be used for private or home schooling.
“We currently have school choice in Arkansas, right? It depends on your zip code, where you live, and if you have money to pay for your kids to go to a private school, and depending where you live, if that’s available to you. So really what it’s about is parent empowerment, and that’s letting all kids across the state have the option for the best education for them,” Davis said.
“So what it means to me is expanding it for parental empowerment, for those parents to make choices for their students. It shouldn’t matter what your zip code is or how much money you have for you to be able to get a good education for your kid,” she added.
She thinks lawmakers will debate allowing public school funding to follow students to wherever their parents choose to educate them.
“I think expanding that to see that it covers all students, that funding is available for all students to be able to choose. If they want to stay in their public school, if they want to go to a private school, a charter school, if they want a homeschool, it’s just widening who that’s available to. And instead of it being a narrow group of students, it’s every student across the state of Arkansas,” she said. “We’re not handing cash out, you know, to parents or anything like that, but I think there is a way to do it. And it looks different. Different models look a little bit different on how we have money follow students and let them make those best educational choices for themselves.”
You can watch Davis’ full interview in the video below.