Democratic gubernatorial candidate shares plan to raise teacher salaries in Arkansas

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones on Tuesday unveiled his plan to offer one-time bonuses to public school teachers and staff, backing Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initial proposal to raise the state’s minimum teacher wage. from $36,000 to $46,000 a year, and pledged to raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by the end of his first term as governor.

Jones said his Teacher Pay Plus plan would also provide a $4,200 raise to teachers earning at least $46,000 a year or more and provide additional state investments to support rural teachers and deferred maintenance needs. buildings.

Under Law 170 of 2019, the state’s minimum teacher salary is $34,900 in the 2021-22 school year and increases to $36,000 in the 2022-23 school year

At a press conference on a sidewalk outside Little Rock Central High School, Jones called on the Republican-dominated Legislature and Republican Governor to use some of the record $1.6 billion surplus of general state revenue from fiscal year 2022 that ended June 30 “to get Arkansas out of the basement with teacher pay.”

“When we invest in teachers, they invest in students, and teachers are worth the investment,” said the former executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.

“Right now they deserve to know and see that they are a priority.”

State Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key pointed out that as the 2022-23 school year approaches, base salaries in Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi are all higher than Arkansas, and Mississippi just increased its base salary to $41,500 with around $5,000. salary increase for each teacher.

Jones said his plan would utilize $400 million of the state’s general revenue surplus, with a long-term sustainable total funding structure, and provide a clear path to sustainable funding for local school districts.

“I urge my general election opponent Sarah Huckabee Sanders to join this statewide discussion,” he said in a press release.

“Our teachers and the children in our classrooms deserve clear support from all of us.”

The campaign for Sanders, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, had no comment on Jones’ proposal Tuesday afternoon.

Sanders said her top priorities as governor will be education, workforce development and economic development, and she wants to begin phasing out the state’s personal income tax. She has yet to present a plan to raise teachers’ salaries.

She is the daughter of former Republican Governor Mike Huckabee and a former White House press secretary for President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, Hutchinson said he would not put a teacher pay rise on the agenda of the special session he plans to convene from August 8 to consider tax cuts due to lack of support from the Republican-dominated legislature for teacher pay. increase in the extraordinary session.

House and Senate Democrats signaled their support for increasing teacher salaries in the special session. Some Republicans in the Legislature have said they also support reviewing teacher raises in the special session.

Several Republican legislative leaders have said they want to wait until the House and Senate Education Committees complete their biennial review of education adequacy this fall and consider raising teachers’ salaries in the regular session of 2023, starting in January.

Several weeks ago, the governor initially proposed raising teacher salaries to a minimum of $46,000 and implementing a salary increase of at least $4,000. At that time, Senate Pro Tempore Chairman Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, strongly criticized the proposal, saying it would cost $333 million to implement and that it was too expensive.

Hutchinson later reduced his original proposal to raise the minimum teacher salary to $42,000 per year and provide a $4,000 raise to each teacher for the 2022-23 school year.

The total cost of the scaled-down proposal is $150 million for the 2023 fiscal year that began Friday and ends June 30, 2023, and would come from the 2022 fiscal year surplus, according to Key. For fiscal year 2024, the public schools fund would need $140 million in ongoing general revenue under this proposal and the additional $60 million needed would come from the combined growth of the school adequacy fund. Education, Education Excellence Trust Fund, and Flat Tax Rate as part of this reduction. -down proposal.

According to Jones’ campaign, his Teacher Pay Plus plan would include:

• Offer a one-time surplus bonus to teachers and staff. A one-time $2,500 bonus for teachers this year would cost $85 million of the state’s general revenue surplus and a one-time $1,000 bonus for staff members this year would cost $37 million of the state’s general revenue surplus. surplus in general state revenue, according to his campaign.

• Raise the minimum salary for teachers to $46,000 per year in August, then to $50,000 per year by the end of the first term of the Jones administration, and a raise of $4,200 for those already earning 46 $000 or more per year.

• Address the rural teacher shortage gap through the creation of a rural teacher incentive program funded by $53 million of the state’s general revenue surplus.

• Provide a deferred building maintenance program for local schools funded with $75 million from the state’s general revenue surplus.

• Create stability funds for local schools to meet unexpected economic challenges funded with $150 million from the general revenue surplus.

At Jones’ press conference, Max Parker, a teacher at Forrest High School, wondered if it made more sense for state lawmakers to give tax cuts to a billionaire during the special session. or to grant raises to teachers who will invest in their premises. communities.

“If you want to bet, betting on teachers is the right economic bet,” Parker said.

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