A looming teacher shortage that predated the pandemic looks so much worse now that COVID threats scared some educators out of their classrooms. And low teacher salaries aren’t helping. But the governor might be!
Governor Hutchinson is floating a plan to significantly boost teacher pay, ratcheting up the minimum teacher salary in Arkansas from $36,000 to $46,000. This would push the average teacher salary in Arkansas to around $60,000.
Right now, the starting salary for Arkansas teachers is set at $36,000 for the 2022-2023 school year. But all teachers, not just starting ones, would get more money under Hutchinson’s surprising plan. He’s proposing a $4,000 raise for all teachers through the ADM, or “average daily membership,” which represents the amount the state sends per student for public school students.
But Arkansas Department of Education Director Johnny Key supplied estimates of the price to the state for teacher raises of $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 too, just in case lawmakers are too chintzy to pony up for the full deal.
Obviously, this plan sounds great! Reporter Mike Wickline wrote all about it in the Sunday Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In 2019, lawmakers passed a salary schedule increase that included gradual raises that bring the 2022/2023 minimum salary up to $36,000. But as Wickline reported, key Republican lawmakers were initially skeptical of Hutchinson’s new raise idea.
A substantial raise like this one could help stave off the teacher exodus Arkansas and other states are expecting this summer as thoroughly tapped out educators retire or switch careers. Arkansas’s long-suffering teachers had it worse than some, having to report to on-site duty while most of us were cowering in fear and calling it in from the home office. A few dozen Arkansas educators died because of this. Surely throwing in a few thousand extra bucks a year is the least we can do.
So how soon can we get this stellar plan in the works?
“There is no timeline, but in order to remain competitive with surrounding states, it would be important to implement it for the 22-23 school year,” said Kimberly Mundell, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Education.
Hutchinson has pointed to Mississippi as an example of a peer state that’s prioritized teachers and recently passed sizable raises.
In an email outlining the plan, Key wrote that, “Implementing the $4000 salary increase, combined with a new minimum salary of $46,000, would cause Arkansas to leap up the rankings of states for average salary. We estimate that under this scenario, the average teacher salary would be near $60,000. Based on the [National Education Association] estimates for 2021-22 that were released last week, we would rank higher than all surrounding states, and conceivably could go from a ranking of 46 in the 2020-21 school year to ranking in the top half of the nation. Of course, this could vary depending on legislative action in other states.”
Key also noted that state revenue indicators suggest Arkansas can cover the cost of these raises, easy. Per Key:
Bottom Line – Using a combination of surplus funding and an increase to ongoing funding through the Public School Fund (totaling approximately $333 million for FY23), Arkansas can make an historic increase to teacher salaries.
Arkansas lawmakers might be debating this proposal within weeks. “Governor Hutchinson has proposed it as part of the discussion of a potential special session,” Mundell said, referring to the session Hutchinson said he plans to call in July or August to pass tax cuts and potentially carve out expenditures for new school safety measures in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting at Robb Elementary School.
Arkansas really needs this, and I hope lawmakers come through. Because our schools are in for a crisis in August if we can’t retain the teachers we have and recruit a few new ones.
Hard numbers on the attrition rate for Arkansas teachers aren’t yet available, Mundell said. But she suggested it’s not looking good. “Anecdotally, superintendents are reporting a significant number of openings due to teachers leaving the profession through resignation or retirement,” she said.
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