LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A Dallas school district placed billboards throughout Little Rock to recruit teachers disillusioned with relatively-low pay in Arkansas.
“It’s enticing,” said one public school teacher who did not want to be identified in the story.
The billboards note Texas’ starting teacher salary is $60,000. Arkansas’ minimum salary is $36,000.
The state is sitting on $1.6 billion in surplus money, and some Arkansans have called for an upcoming special session to include discussions about pay raises for teachers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said that will not likely happen, and other Republicans said they do not think the special session is the place to decide on long-term raises.
“It’s not so much that it’s not thinking teachers deserve a pay raise,” said State Sen. Bob Ballinger (R). “It’s a question of how education dollars are being spent, and why aren’t they being spent on the classroom?”
Ballinger said fears about an economic recession also play a role in Republicans’ problems with this. He said he would have preferred to see one-time bonuses passed similar to ones given to law enforcement, but he does not suspect such an endeavor would have legislative support.
“I think every year since I’ve been in the legislature since my first, which was under a Democratic governor, I think we have done some form of teacher pay increase,” Ballinger said.
Some Democratic legislators said they think the special session makes sense as a method to approve these pay increases.
“We know that teachers are, particularly here in the state of Arkansas, criminally underpaid,” said State Rep. Monte Hodges (D).
Hodges said he would support substantial bonuses for teachers because of their commitment to education during the pandemic. He said he fears not addressing this could result in a widespread teacher shortage in Arkansas.
“Mississippi just passed a salary increase for their teachers,” Hodges said, referencing legislation passed in March that raised that state’s minimum salary to $37,000. “[Surrounding state’s] salaries are higher than the state of Arkansas.”
The teacher KARK interviewed Monday said he would consider moving to Texas because of the information shared on the billboards.
“My oldest son’s got three years left of school,” the teacher said. “I won’t make the transition until he graduates, but three years isn’t that long.”
The teacher said a one-time bonus would send the right message: educators are valued in Arkansas.
“I really think they need to change their priority and put more emphasis on taking care of the teachers,” the teacher said.