Democrats file legislation for teacher pay raises, per pupil funding increase

by Ronak Patel ([email protected]) 1,815 views 

Arkansas Democrats filed legislation Thursday (Jan. 26) to raise public school teacher salaries, non-teacher staff salaries, and per pupil foundation funding for the next year.

In the House, Democrats filed HB1268, the RAISE Act, to move funds from the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education Public School Fund Account to the Department of Education for pay raises for teachers, according to the bill.

According to a press release from the Democratic Party of Arkansas, the RAISE Act will cost $350 million for teacher pay. The legislation would raise the starting salary of teachers to $50,000, up from $36,000. There is also a $10,000 raise for every public school teacher in the state.

“For over three decades, I taught in just about every type of classroom from parochial to private to public. I can say confidently that Arkansas is blessed with some of the very best educators the South can offer, but we are not paying them their worth,” said House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock.

McCullough said this pay raise for teachers would make Arkansas go from having the worst average starting salary for teachers in the South to having the best.

Following are comparisons of average teacher pay and average starting teacher pay in Arkansas and contiguous states. The numbers are from the National Education Association and were last updated in April 2022.
Arkansas
Average pay and national rank: $51,668 – 46
Average starting pay and national rank: $35,803 – 48

Louisiana
Average pay and national rank: $52,472 – 43
Average starting pay and national rank: $42,185 – 19

Mississippi
Average pay and national rank: $46,862 – 51
Average starting pay and national rank: $36,653 – 46

Missouri
Average pay and national rank: $51,557 – 47
Average starting pay and national rank: $33,234 – 50

Oklahoma
Average pay and national rank: $54,762 – 34
Average starting pay and national rank: $38,074 – 34

Tennessee
Average pay and national rank: $52,871 – 42
Average starting pay and national rank: $39,024 – 33

Texas
Average pay and national rank: $57,641 – 28
Average starting pay and national rank: $44,527 – 14

At the national level, Arkansas ranks 28th in teacher salary when adjusted for cost of living, according to the Arkansas Senate’s website.

Last fall, Democrats pushed the legislature to pass the RAISE Act during a special session called by former Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He was in support of raising teacher pay, but decided not to put the RAISE Act on the agenda for the special session. He cited the lack of support from Republican leadership in the legislature for his reason to exclude the proposal.

At the time of the special session, Republican lawmakers who opposed taking up the issue of teacher pay said they wanted to wait for an adequacy study, which is conducted by the House and the Senate. The adequacy studies are required by the state to determine whether students are receiving adequate and equitable resources.

Democrats said the adequacy studies recommended raising pay for non-teacher employees. One study recommended a $2 an hour raise; the Democrats have proposed doubling that recommendation and implementing a $4 an hour raise for non-teaching education personnel, such as cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and other support staff.

At the time of the special session, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said in a Facebook post that lawmakers should wait to raise teacher salaries during the 2023 legislative session instead of the special session, because lawmakers would have information about non-teacher salaries from the adequacy study.

The minimum wage pay for non-teacher staff is $11 an hour and the Democrats’ plan would increase it to $15 an hour. The plan to raise non-teacher pay is part of a separate bill that was filed in the Senate by Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said it was important to include non-teacher pay raises.

“We also know that our dedicated and hardworking staff, who make our schools run every day, deserve a raise. And that’s exactly what our staff pay bill will do. Right now, there is a majority in this legislature that wants pay raises for teachers and support staff. Together with these two bills we can build a brighter Arkansas for every child,” he said.

According to the Democrats’ Senate bill, foundation funding, which is the amount school districts receive per student, would increase from $7,182 to $8,370 per student.

On inauguration day, Gov. Sarah Sanders voiced her support for increasing teacher pay. Sanders and Republicans, with input from Democrats, are working on a comprehensive education reform bill that will address teacher and non-teaching personnel pay. A timeframe for releasing that bill is unknown.

Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, appeared on this week’s edition of Capitol View to discuss the Democrats’ teacher pay plan. You can watch the interview below.