Teachers in Arkansas are now a signature away from getting annual pay raises for the next four fiscal years, eventually reaching a new minimum of $36,000.
House Bill 1145, known as the "Teacher Salary Enhancement Act," passed unanimously in the Arkansas Senate Thursday with a vote of 35-0.
Though the bill passed with unanimous support, questions about the bill's economic impact on schools after the four-year period raised some concerns among lawmakers.
Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said he was concerned about the ability of two school districts within his legislative district to deal with the pay hike.
"Earle will be impacted almost $200,000 and Lee County will be almost a quarter of a million dollars impacted by this," Ingram said. "What discussion was held in committee regarding these shortfalls that these schools are going to face at the end of four years?"
The bill's primary co-sponsor in the Senate, Republican Sen. Jane English of North Little Rock, said the Joint Committee on Educational Adequacy will work to find a way to fund the higher salaries past the bill's four-year schedule.
The $60 million impact of the bill will be paid for through the state's adequacy fund, which is primarily taxpayer-funded. Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, told fellow lawmakers to expect requests for more funding to maintain higher teacher pay rates.
"We're going to have to find that starting place to make sure they remain whole and then move further from there to try to make sure we are keeping up with the cost and so forth," Elliott said. "When we come back to you with a number that perhaps looks bigger than what you thought it should look... a lot of it will be because we have to make sure these school districts are whole after those four years."
Gov. Asa Hutchinson identified raising teacher salaries as a priority during his reelection campaign. The bill now goes to Hutchinson for a signature before becoming law.