From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Support for raising teacher salaries is growing across the state, and some Arkansas legislators think it is time to make our salary structure competitive with neighboring states.
In national rankings of teacher salaries, for the past several years Arkansas has been steadily falling to the bottom.
We’re 46th in average salaries. If you measure average salaries for first year teachers, we’re 48th in the nation.
It’s discouraging to be so near the bottom in rankings of starting salaries, because Arkansas has a teacher shortage that is getting worse.
Teaching is a demanding profession, and the turnover rate is unsustainably high.
Consider the turnover rate among Arkansas teachers for the past five years, according to the state Education Department.
In 2017 and 2018, the turnover rate was 24 percent. In 2019 it was 26 percent.
In 2020 it improved slightly, going down to 21 percent, but last year it went back up to 24 percent.
When almost a quarter of your work force chooses to leave every year, something is wrong.
To add insult to injury, if you drive around Little Rock you’ll see billboards advertising teaching jobs in Dallas, Texas, with salaries ranging from $60,000 to $102,000 a year.
In the Delta, we’re competing against Mississippi and Tennessee for the best teachers, and we have to do better.
Both states pay teachers a higher base salary than Arkansas schools. So do Missouri and Oklahoma.
I’m in a group of legislators advocating for significant pay raises for teachers, because Arkansas has a unique opportunity that we should not waste.
The state recently ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus of more than $1.6 billion. That’s an all-time record.
Granted, a budget surplus is one-time money and an increase in teacher salaries would be an ongoing expense.
But the fact that we have accumulated such an enormous surplus is clear proof that we can afford to support our teachers with an ongoing pay raise.
It’s an investment in the future that will benefit Arkansas citizens much more than a tax cut for the rich.
The governor has called a special session for early August, to consider using the surplus to accelerate income tax cuts.
Now is the time to make your voice heard. If you believe teachers deserve a raise, let your elected officials know.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.