LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas Senate and House Democrats introduced a bill, HB 1268, on Jan. 25 that would raise starting salaries for teachers from $36,000 to $50,000 and includes a $10,000 raise for every public-school teacher in Arkansas.

According to a press release from ArkDems, the bill is known as the Raising Arkansas’s Investment in Schools and Educators Act of 2023.

Another bill, SB 149, was filed that would raise the minimum staff pay for all classified staff in public schools from $11 an hour to $15 an hour.

“Arkansas teachers are paid worse than their peers in every other southern state. With the RAISE Act, we can right this wrong and deliver a huge win for our children in Arkansas’s public schools,” said Senate Minority Leader Greg Leading of Fayetteville. “We also know that our dedicated and hardworking staff, who make our schools run every day, deserve a raise. And that’s exactly what our staff pay bill will do. Right now, there is a majority in this legislature that wants pay raises for teachers and support staff. Together with these two bills, we can build a brighter Arkansas for every child.”

While Leding said he thinks the bills will pass, Republican State Senator Bart Hester disagrees. He expects a bigger education package, that will address staff pay, to come down the line.

“We’re calling it a bit of an omnibus education bill, because it’s going to deal with supporting our teachers. We’re going to deal with supporting mostly students and parents, right, parental empowerment through choice, because we all know that no two kids are made the same and different things work differently for different kids,” said Hester.

He said teacher pay is lacking in Arkansas, but he also thinks some schools should look at how they allocate funds.

“The problem is not the legislature not paying teachers. We pay about $72,000 a year per teacher. The problem is the local elected school boards and superintendents are choosing to use that money otherwise,” said Hester.

Leding is worried a potential education package covering a wide range of items will be too much and not focus on some of the big items, like teacher pay.

“We’ve been in session for three weeks. We’ve yet to see the education bill from our new governor. We decided it was time to act. Let’s go ahead and address teacher salaries and pay raises for classified staff now, and we can deal with the rest of education issues here in the coming weeks,” said Leding.

RAISE Act will cost $350 million for the $10,000 raise and a one-time cost of $30 million to help districts meet the new minimum salary of $50,000 from $36,000.

According to the release, the classified raise comes from a House recommendation out of the educational adequacy study to raise the per-pupil foundation amount for non-teacher employees.

The release says the classified staff pay bill doubles the initial recommendation of a $ 2-an-hour raise to $4 an hour.

According to the release, the raise would be achieved with an $89 increase per pupil, which is around $42 million in total.