LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The 2023 legislative session in Arkansas is just a month away, and teachers are fighting again for higher pay.
Legislators on both sides say the issue has bipartisan support and is something teachers can count on, but the discussion now is how much the state can spend.
Chairman of the House Education Committee Bruce Cozart said he feels Governor Asa Hutchinson’s proposed $550 million balanced budget might not be enough to cover changes in educational policies, including these salary raises. He said he is hopeful to rework some things, though.
“We are not the top-paying state, and we can be, but we have got to work at it,” Cozart said.
Right now, legislators are proposing a $4,000 increase for teachers and bumping the base salary up from $36,000 to $40,000.
Cozart said the House and Senate had significantly different adequacy reports prior to this. The House’s budget was nearly $1 billion for the next three years, while the Senate’s was closer to $500 million.
The push for higher pay has been a hot topic in Arkansas for months. Many Arkansans hoped to see lawmakers take action in the special session over the summer, though it never received the support it needed from legislators and was not brought up.
“It’s a harder job than it used to be, so they deserve more,” Cozart said.
Gwen Faulkenberry is one of the teachers that has pushed for this boost.
She said unless the legislature is making some changes, she fears for the future of education in Arkansas.
“There’s a bomb getting ready to drop,” she said. “There’s a teacher shortage…it’s come to a crisis point. Until that bomb drops, people don’t realize how dire the situation is.”
Faulkenberry said she is grateful to see lawmakers making progress for educators, though she thinks they can do more with the salary proposal.
“I don’t worry that the money is not there for teacher raises,” she said. “I believe it’s there for $10,000.”
Cozart said this will take time, but it could happen.
“We’re trying to get to that $10,000, but it takes a few years,” he said.
Faulkenberry said she is glad to see more focus on education, but she hopes lawmakers will take educators’ perspectives into consideration more than ever.
“There’s not really anything more important in our state than what we’re doing with our kids,” Faulkenberry said.