Arkansas panel discusses teacher raises

The House and Senate Education Committee will begin discussing teacher salaries when they meet next month.

Members of the committee have until Sept. 20 to get their ideas to co-chairs Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, and Rep. Bruce Cozart before the committee's October meeting.

Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, discussed the issue at Tuesday's meeting.

"We're getting there," Cozart said when asked where the panel was on teacher pay raises. "We just don't have all these numbers. I need to know what you think it needs to be, what changes we need to make and we need those back to the two chairs so we can sit down and put those together."

Pay raises must be approved by the full Legislature when they convene next year.

The committee also got its first look at the 2022 Education Adequacy Study that examined salaries of surrounding school systems. Arkansas' average teacher salary is $50,456. The average salary is $57,090 in Texas and $54,096 in Oklahoma. The average salary for all Arkansas residents was $49,475, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The starting salary for a teacher is $36,000. The state ranked 48th in the U.S. in teacher salaries in 2020, according to the study.

A survey of teachers said 60% were happy with their salaries, according to the study. Ninety percent of teachers said they are satisfied with being a teacher at their school.

The Education Committee heard reports from various agencies throughout the year in anticipation of the full report, which will be released on Nov 1. Lawmakers used the report as the reason they did not use part of the state's $1.6 billion surplus for teacher raises.

Arkansas Democrats introduced a bill during a special session held last month that would have used $600 million of the surplus to raise starting teachers' salaries from $36,000 to $42,000. Lawmakers did not call the bill for a vote.

Members of the Arkansas Legislative Council rescinded $500 million in COVID-relief funds from school systems and recommended school districts pay teachers a $5,000 bonus, classified staff a $2,500 bonus and part-time staff members half of what their full-time counterparts receive with the money. Those who did not want to use the money for bonuses were required to tell the panel why they were using the money for another purpose.

The ALC-Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review agreed to release more than $77 million to 40 school districts that either agreed to use them for bonuses or explained how they were using the money.

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