Siloam Springs Herald Leader
Governor tells of $50,000 pay for state’s teachers
Never doubt, Mr. and Mrs. Voter, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is not lost on big announcements and even bigger optics of such events.
Last week, flanked on the grand staircase inside the Arkansas State Capitol, she quickly announced her determined march toward raising state teacher’s salaries to the $50,000 level.
Standing beside and well behind her for this truly grand optic to her words were most of the supermajority of Republicans in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate. It was a truly breathtaking large group, many of whom do not agree on raising or spending tax monies on the public schools, to get together for such a photographic and historic announcement.
One must harken back to a former governor whose magic formula to getting what his administration wanted was to “underpromise and overperform” on legislative matters.
Perhaps our new governor and the nation’s youngest is in the best of whatever the 135 members have to say, good or bad, about her desires.
The messages from most of the members of the General Assembly have been positive, at least according to state Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, a retired teacher and two-term committee member of the state House Education committee.
“There is a lot to like in the governor’s education plan. Change is always hard and I am sure this may be difficult for some,” Fite said while driving back home after the legislature adjourned for the weekend.
“We are blessed with excellent schools in our area. That’s not true statewide and, with roughly half of our state budget going to education, it’s time to look at new ways of doing things. I’m excited about the raise in teachers’ pay, the emphasis on literacy, school safety and parental involvement. I hope everyone will be open to innovation as details come forward.”
Others, especially Democrats, warn of other lurking dangers they see in the promise of a large, overreaching omnibus bill on education.
Many legislators, while afraid to scold the governor, seem hesitant to the omnibus approach to almost any legislation.
Gov. Sanders, when on the campaign stump last year, never denied she would be bold on educational reform — exactly the opposite. Last week’s display of courage and optics certainly showed her delivering on campaign promises.
Strangely, most state Democrats were rather silent on the pay raise question, tending to pick at other issues Gov. Sanders has said will be in her omnibus bill, namely school choice and funding to parents so they can choose the path for their child’s education.
On Twitter, state Sen. Greg Leding, the minority leader in the state Senate, wrote: “Let’s be clear. Vouchers don’t aid and won’t give anybody the right to pick their school; private schools pick which students they’ll accept – all while public dollars are drained from public schools.”
Sanders has waited some fiveand-a-half weeks into the legislative session to make her move. Sanders said she planned to increase starting teacher pay in the state from $36,000 to $50,000. The starting teacher pay would move Arkansas from 48th to fourth in state rankings.
More than 15,000 current teachers would also receive a pay raise to the $50,000 threshold and teachers over that salary floor could receive an immediate pay raise of $2,000, according to legislative sources.
She also revealed that her voucher system for allowing public school funds to follow students to other choices would be called “education freedom accounts.” They will allow students to spend as much as $7,800 on other school choices outside of their district, charter schools, private schools, home schools and other options.
Another major component of her education plan would add 120 literacy coaches who would be deployed across Arkansas to help kids improve their reading success.
“I said I wanted to be the education governor and I’m proud to deliver on that promise,” Sanders said.
It will also have to be scored for financial impact. Sanders said she expected it to be in the $300 million range with about $150 million coming from new funding to education.
And now we wait to see the expected 100-page plus bill emerge.