LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders introduced her omnibus education reform package Wednesday, called the Arkansas LEARNS plan, and is meant to address several things she has spoken and campaigned on.

One major talking point has been raising teacher pay in Arkansas.

Through Arkansas LEARNS, the minimum starting teacher salaries would increase to $50,000.

“Arkansas offers some of the lowest teacher pay in the country,” Sanders said. “That changes today.”

Any teacher already making under that would now make that same amount, and those making more would get a $2,000 raise.

“Instead of being 48th in the nation for starting teacher salary, we will now be in the top 5,” the governor said.

Sanders said these teacher raises will cost about $300 million. She said half of that money is already in our education budget, but the other half will come from new spending.

The bill would also offer complete student loan forgiveness for new teachers willing to teach in areas of Arkansas with the highest need and bring bonuses to specific educators making meaningful outcomes.

The push for this increase is now coming from both Republicans and Democrats.

Less than two weeks ago, House and Senate Democrats filed a bill called the RAISE Act of 2023. It stands for Raising Arkansas’s Investment in Schools and Educators. The legislation in the previous special session.

The bill would raise starting teacher pay from $36,000 to $50,000 and provide a $10,000 bonus for every teacher in Arkansas. Democrats also filed a companion bill to raise classified school staff pay to $15 an hour.

The push for raising teacher pay has gone on for months now, going back to the special session over the summer, when ultimately the issue did not make it on the agenda for legislators.

Gwen Faulkenberry is an educator in Arkansas who has been a part of this from day one, advocating for teachers.

“I’m just so thankful just to have been a little part of that,” Faulkenberry said.

“It’s a hard thing for me as a teacher, and even as a woman, to sometimes demand or voice what I feel like is right,” she said.

Faulkenberry said she quickly became comfortable speaking up for other teachers, though.

She said she feels her efforts were worth it, now seeing both Democrats and Republicans pushing for significant pay raises.

Faulkenberry said overall, she supports the RAISE Act from Democrats more so than what Republicans have proposed, because this bill specifically focuses on teacher pay, rather than education reform as a whole. Though either way, she is thankful to see lawmakers begin to show support and appreciation for educators.

“My hope and my prayer is that this is something that’s going to be huge and a monumental reform for our state, that is good for everybody,” she said.

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Grant Tennille released a statement in response to Governor Sander’s package announced Wednesday.

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.”