Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility
Close Alert

Arkansas gov. proposes raising teacher pay to $50K & creating new school voucher program

On Wednesday (Feb. 8), Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders rolled out key pieces of her education package, Arkansas LEARNS, on the front steps of the Arkansas House. (KATV photo){p}{/p}
On Wednesday (Feb. 8), Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders rolled out key pieces of her education package, Arkansas LEARNS, on the front steps of the Arkansas House. (KATV photo)

Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon

On Wednesday (Feb. 8), Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders rolled out key pieces of her education package, Arkansas LEARNS, on the front steps of the Arkansas House.

While legislation has yet to be filed, Sanders outlined what she wants to see as part of an education bill that's expected to have multiple Republican cosponsors.

Sanders proposed raising the starting teacher's salary to $50,000 - currently the average starting pay starts at $36,000 - bumping the state's teacher pay from 48th in the nation to 4th. She also wants to provide $10,000 bonuses to "the best educators," she said.

She outlined incentives including complete student loan forgiveness, for teachers who commit to teaching in parts of the state that have the highest need, as well as 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. She also wants lawmakers to repeal the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.

"Of course, this bill will make sure that our students spend their time in the classroom learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. We will never subject our kids to indoctrination and we will never ever expose our young children to inappropriate material," said Sanders.

Her education agenda includes expanding school of choice by creating the Education Freedom Account or school vouchers. She's asking for no limits on the number of charters or number of school choice transfers.

"[It] allows parents to enroll their kids in whatever school is most appropriate for their family whether it be public, private, parochial or homeschool," she said. "We're rolling out this program for our most at-risk families first, and within three years it will be available to every family in Arkansas."

When asked how much funding a family could expect, Sanders pointed to the state's foundation funding and said they would receive about 90% of that funding. The current foundation funding amount per student for the 2022-2023 school year is $7,413 according to the Arkansas Department of Education.

Sanders plans to position 120 literacy coaches throughout parts of the state who need it the most. As part of her proposal, students K through 3rd grade who are struggling to read at grade level would qualify for $500 a year to be used for tutoring purposes.

She added that she wants to better prepare the state's future workforce.

"When a student graduates from high school, we should not just be asking the question - what do they know - we should be asking what can they do. That's why we're launching a dual diploma program in all Arkansas high school. The new career-ready diploma will provide high school students the opportunity to choose a pathway," she said.

As far as how this proposal will be funded, Sanders said it will cost around $300 million - $150 of that is new spending while the other half is funding that's already part of the state's education budget, but it would be repurposed.

Just last month, Arkansas Democrats filed two bills, including HB 1268 known as the Raising Arkansas' Investment in Schools and Educators or RAISE Act of 2023 - which would provide immediate one-time pay raises of $10,000 for full-time teachers.

The proposal would also increase teachers' starting salaries from $36,000 to $50,000. The bill would direct $30 million from the state's Educational Adequacy Fund to the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education Public School Fund Account to be used solely for the implementation of the Education Compensation Reform Program.

A companion bill, SB 149, was filed which proposes raising the minimum hourly wage from $11 to $15 for support staff.

Following Sanders' announcement on Wednesday the Democratic Party of Arkansas Chair, Grant Tennille, released this statement:

"We continue to be disappointed, but not surprised that Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders isn’t taking her job as Arkansas governor seriously. Today, Gov. Sanders unveiled some of the incomplete details about the education scheme she continues to brag about but fails to deliver on. What we do know is that she’s proposed the biggest voucher scam in the entire country, a full-on dismantling of Arkansas public schools so destructive she knew she had to dress it up with popular policies like the $50,000 teacher salary minimum that she plagiarized from Arkansas Democrats."

“We will not be bought. Unproven voucher scams like this one, likely copy-and-pasted from an out-of-state think tank, are an existential threat to Arkansas’ public schools and a sweetheart deal that will only benefit lobbyists, special interests, and the rich over everyday Arkansas students, families, and school communities. We are a hard NO on the Sanders voucher scheme."

Loading ...