Provide teacher raises without threatening our public schools

Arkansans know how much teachers and school staff give to our kids everyday. The Pay AR Teachers coalition works to elevate the voices of hardworking educators who are long overdue for raises and respect. A $50k base salary for starting teachers, proposed by both the Democratic Caucus’ RAISE act and the GOP’s LEARNS act, is a good start.

Unfortunately, the governor’s LEARNS plan folds educator raises in with a DC-style omnibus bill (i.e. a large bill addressing multiple subjects and policies) that expands vouchers to every Arkansas student by 2025. Vouchers jeopardize the future of our rural public schools, opportunities for kids with disabilities, and the livelihoods of educators, which the bill claims to prioritize.

Educators in Arkansas have waited a long time for a substantial pay increase; they deserve higher teacher pay but also respect for the work they put in everyday to teach the next generation of Arkansans. Unfortunately, public school teachers have become a punching bag of the far right and the school choice movement; many in our state and nation — including the governor and members of the legislature — accuse public school teachers of indoctrinating students and grooming them in the name of woke politics.

Nothing could be further from the truth here in Arkansas, where educators equip our kids with basic curriculum learning, social skills, and a love for our state and country. It’s insulting, at the very least, to weaponize partisanship and play games with our teachers’ livelihoods. At worst, it’s dangerous, causing teachers to leave the profession in droves for fear of their financial security and physical safety. It’s also irresponsible; using teacher pay to force voucher expansion only endangers the longterm goal of a world-class public education for every Arkansas kid — not just those who are fortunate enough to live in zip codes with access to private and charter schools.

Educator raises should be celebrated, and we applaud the efforts of those who have worked on this issue for decades, often without fanfare or accolades. Pay raises are overdue, and our educators deserve this win. But they don’t deserve to be used as pawns in a political game.

Thank you, Arkansas public school teachers and staff. We hope this administration and our state leaders will creatively prioritize investment in our public schools and the hardworking people who help teach and and equip our kids everyday.