LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Chris Jones, the Democratic nominee for Arkansas governor, has released a plan to increase teacher pay in the state Tuesday as a debate continues among legislators and advocates for teachers.
While Governor Asa Hutchinson indicated earlier this year to increase the minimum salary for teachers to $46,000, he said it would not be a focus for the special session in August. Hutchinson cited a lack of support in the majority GOP legislature, according to the Associated Press.
During his press conference, Jones said that "teachers are worth the investment" and that "they deserve to know and see that they are a priority."
Jones' plan calls for using part of the $1.6 billion surplus the state has to provide teachers a pay raise. Jones also showed support for Hutchinson's plan, but promised to raise teacher pay to $50,000 by the end of his first term if he was elected.
“We have a record state surplus of $1.6 billion dollars. It’s common sense that we invest in our children’s education and our teachers,” Jones said in a statement.
His plan also includes a one-time bonus for teachers and staff between $1,000 to $2,500 per employee.
The state has raised teachers salaries over the last several years with the minimum teacher salary for the coming school year being $36,000.
Republican leaders said the special session isn't the right time for the issue and have noted there is around $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding that districts could use to provide bonuses.
Jones' plan would set up a program to help address the teacher shortage in rural areas.
Arkansas currently ranks near the bottom in minimum teacher salary compared to other states.
The issue will take center stage during a Special Session that Gov. Hutchinson scheduled for August 8, with classes set to resume shortly afterwards.
Jones is running against Republican nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the November elections. Sanders is heavily favored to win. She did not respond to our request for a comment at this time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.