The minimum salary for Arkansas teachers will be going up. On Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill into law that incrementally raises the minimum pay over the next four years, eventually reaching $36,000.
Hutchinson was joined by lawmakers, educators and college students preparing to become teachers for the ceremony at the Arkansas Department of Education.
"This is a special occasion for Arkansas and all those that believe in education and the profession of teaching that is so critical to all that we want to do in the state of Arkansas," Hutchinson said before signing the legislation. He suggested this will put Arkansas in a more competitive position.
"Right now without any changes, we’re in the middle ranking of our surrounding states. But with this $4,000 increase, Arkansas will lead our surrounding states," Hutchinson said to applause, "and as a result of this, we will be able to better recruit teachers, encourage them to enter the profession, as well as retain those quality teachers that we already have that we don’t want to lose."
Raising teacher pay had been a priority the governor discussed at the start of the legislative session. He credited Education Commissioner Johnny Key for determining how to make this possible and steering it through the legislature.
Key said in an interview after the ceremony that there are significant disparities in teacher salaries in school districts around the state.
"It’s a problem, especially in some of the districts that are at the bare minimum now which [is] $31,800, and they do have trouble," Key said. "Sometimes what happens is, they’ll have a teacher that works for them for two or three years, they’ll get trained, they’ll get accustomed to being in the classroom, and then someone who can pay more is able to recruit them away. So we think this will help really mitigate some of that loss of teachers in some of our smaller more rural districts."
But the additional cost for districts that pay the minimum has been a concern. Speaking with reporters, Hutchinson noted that $60 million has been set aside to assist those districts.
"In the future, and for four years we’re going to be helping them, but eventually it’s blended in to the adequacy increase and this will have to be measured like everything else," Hutchinson said.
At the ceremony were several students in the education program at the University of Central Arkansas, including Jasilym Graham, who is on track to graduate next year.
"I thought it was spectacular," she said. "Money was never an object to me when it came to teaching because I have a passion for it, but it is nice to know that people care about us enough to raise the salary because I’ve always heard people say they’ll go into teaching if they got paid more, so I think this will be a nice way to recruit more people in to become teachers."