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Arkansas Democratic gubernatorial nominee outlines teacher pay raise plan

Daniel Breen
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones was joined by educators at a news conference Tuesday in front of Little Rock's Central High School to announce his plan for teacher pay raises if elected.

Amid an ongoing debate regarding teacher pay raises in Arkansas, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones has released his plan to raise salaries.

All 29 Democrats in the state legislature have called for Gov. Asa Hutchinson to increase teacher pay during a special session next month. Hutchinson, a Republican, says he supports raising base salaries to $46,000, but has said not enough lawmakers support his plan.

In a news conference at Little Rock's Central High School on Tuesday, Jones said he agrees with Hutchinson’s plan, but would also like to raise base pay to $50,000 by the end of his first term in office.

“We can provide $4,200 for those already at $46,000 per year. This can be sustained, and Gov. Hutchinson has already done the math," Jones said. "We can close the gap by giving one-time bonuses of between $1,000 and $2,500 to all teachers and staff.”

Jones says he would use as much as $400 million of the state’s $1.6 billion surplus from the last fiscal year to pay for raises, as well as new programs to maintain facilities and provide housing and quality-of-life incentives to attract teachers to rural districts. Jones said he would also start a fund using surplus dollars to address future pay raises should unexpected economic changes arise.

When asked, Jones said it’s unclear whether there’s enough legislative support for either his plan or Gov. Hutchinson’s plan.

“You don’t know until the whistle blows, and until the whistle blows you fight every fight, you fight every down, you push for every yard. I haven’t had conversations with all the legislators, so I don’t know what their issues or concerns are with [Hutchinson’s] specific proposal,” Jones said.

Arkansas currently ranks 46th in the nation for starting teacher salaries. A request for comment to Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders was not immediately returned.

In a statement, Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington said he wouldn’t oppose raising teacher pay if there were enough legislative support. He also said teachers looking for higher pay should “open their own schools and provide competition in education.”

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.