Arkansas Senate Democrats want $600 million of surplus for teacher pay

(The Center Square) – Arkansas Senate Democrats want to use $600 million of the state’s $1.6 billion surplus to increase teacher salaries.

The Raise Act introduced Friday would raise the minimum salary for the state’s teachers from $36,000 to $42,000.

“After raising teacher pay, we can use our remaining billion-dollar surplus for other essential needs like adequately paying our bus drivers, custodians, and other classified and support staff,” said Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, said in a news release. “The RAISE Act is a big step toward improving education throughout our state, but it’s just the beginning of what we need to do.”

The Legislature meets in a special session on Aug. 8 to decide what to do with a $1.6 billion surplus from fiscal year 2022. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the focus would be on tax relief. Democrats and the Arkansas Education Association are calling for teacher pay raises.

Republicans have balked at the idea of adding educator salaries to the session agenda.

Last week the Arkansas Legislative Committee rescinded a $500 million allocation of COVID relief funds and recommended school districts use the money to give teachers a $5,000 bonus, classified staff a $2,500 bonus and part-time staff members half of what their full-time counterparts receive. Members of the AEA rallied outside the capitol as the vote was made. The AEA is planning another rally Aug. 7 on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he didn’t think the ALC’s action was lawful.

“I am concerned that teachers in some districts will get a bonus, but others may not,” he said. “The creative approach by the committee today while well-intentioned is not the best approach to helping our teachers.”