Democratic Sen. Keith Ingram has distributed a letter signed by Democrats in the House and Senate supporting the campaign to consider raising school employee pay in the August special session.
For now, the only item on the agenda is an accelerated income tax cut that will benefit disproportionately the richest 5 percent of Arkansas taxpayers, with not a single dollar for those making $40,000 a year (many beginning teachers in other words.)
It says in part:
We are writing this letter to assure you that we are fighting for you. On August 8th, the Arkansas State Legislature will meet for a special legislative session. The purpose of this special session is to address our largest ever state surplus of $1.628 BILLION dollars. We believe that a school salary increase should top the list of priorities.
In Arkansas, the starting teacher pay is $36,000 a year. Many other support staff – cafeteria workers, counselors, bus drivers, custodians, nurses, librarians, and so many more – make even less. Yours are full-time jobs that often extend beyond the workday. We see how hard you work. We see that you often spend your own money to provide for your students. We see how much you care about our children.
We believe that you should be paid a salary that reflects your professionalism, skills, and dedication. That salary should enable you to support your family. Currently, low salaries for teachers and support staff in Arkansas make it tempting for you to cross state lines and grow the future leaders of our neighboring states. They have figured out your value and are actively recruiting you away from Arkansas. I’m sure most of you have heard of the billboard in Little Rock advertising Dallas Independent School District annual salaries between $60,000-$102,000.
According to Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key, base salaries in Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi are all higher than Arkansas. In fact, Mississippi just increased base salaries for teachers to $41,500 along with an approximate $5,000 raise for every teacher. We can do that in Arkansas.
There are just over 34,000 public school teachers and 37,000 certified and classified public school staff in Arkansas. The Governor has proposed raising minimum teacher salaries from $36,000 to $46,000. Arkansas has the money for educator and support staff raises.
We are working to gather the votes for Gov. Hutchinson to add teacher and support staff pay to the agenda for the upcoming special session. We implore our colleagues to join us. As you teach our children daily – it’s never too late to do the right thing.
A few Republicans have signed onto the movement to help teachers, but a majority seems lacking at this point. Most nonsensical is the Republican opposition that says the state can’t afford to add an ongoing cost to its budget, surplus or no surplus. But it CAN add a half-billion tax cut for the rich?