Governor Hutchinson's Weekly Address: Supporting our Teachers
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas’s education system greatly depends on our ability to attract and retain teachers. We need to make sure the pay reflects the importance of their job and our respect for their role in shaping the lives of the next generation of leaders.
When the pandemic impacted the world, our schools were heavily burdened. Education could not waiver even during a time when things felt so uncertain.
Arkansas was one of the few states that kept schools open thanks to the amazing teachers in our state. In fact, Arkansas ranked #2 in the nation for days of in-classroom instruction during the pandemic. That puts us in front of Texas and Florida. And so, we must be able to provide for those who are willing to go on the frontlines for our children’s future.
Teacher pay has been one of my top priorities since running for Governor in 2014. Since then, we have increased the minimum teacher pay to align with many of our surrounding states.
In 2019, I signed the Teacher Enhancement Act that took our minimum pay of $31,400 and raised it to $36,000 annually by 2022.
This increase was needed for our teachers, but it is not enough. Arkansas is still ranked 48th in the country for teacher starting pay even after that increase. 88% of our school districts start teachers below a salary of $40,000. We are 14th out of 16 states in our region for minimum starting salary, and we rank 13th out 16 for average salary. Nearly 70% of all our teachers are making below $40,000 a year.
Our goal should be to have 100% of our teachers making above $40,000. We know teachers are important, but we must show them why Arkansas is a place they’ll want to teach and live.
For that reason, we must give our school districts more resources to recruit teachers. We have seen firsthand how providing the right resources can bring growth like we’ve seen with the Computer Science initiative.
In 2015, we started the initiative with fewer than 50 computer science teachers in Arkansas. By providing more resources and incentives, we now have more than 650 certified computer science teachers with more coming by the fall. We have gone from fewer than 1,000 students learning about computer science to more than 12,000 with that number increasing every year.
There is a reluctance by some in the General Assembly to raise teacher salary because of the concern over a future economic downturn. We currently have over $2 billion in state reserves and our surplus.
I am confident in our future ability to fund these initiatives, but the General Assembly controls the purse strings of state government, and I respect their constitutional role. While we might not get it done this year I hope it remains a priority in the future.