SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas LEARNS is expected to cost nearly $300 million the first year and about $343 million in the second year.
The LEARNS includes raising starting teacher pay to $50,000 and includes $2,000 pay raises for current teachers. Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva said the state will fully cover the costs associated with those raises.
“The dollars that are designed to raise the teacher salaries by a minimum of $2,000 and up to $50,000 is coming from a completely different category in the state budget, so it’s not going to impact local school funding at all,” Oliva said.
Oliva said money from the state will continue to be given out to school districts to fund those higher salaries every school year.
“School districts can plan on receiving these dollars in a recurring manner and as we go through the budgeting process each and every single year, we’ll make sure that that’s the top priority,” Oliva said.
Teachers that are funded through federal grants will not be covered by the state’s funds for pay raises. Oliva said those raises will have to be worked out with districts through federal funding. Siloam Springs Superintendent Jody Wiggins said that’s something the district will have to work on.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to increase those salaries separate from the additional money that we get,” Wiggins said.
It will now be up to school districts to set their salary schedules moving forward. Wiggins said he’s having lots of conversations with the school board and staff about what next year’s budget will entail for teachers and classified staff.
“We are anxiously awaiting the foundation funding bill from the legislature to give us some idea of what that that per student funding is going to increase to next year,” Wiggins said.
Oliva also touched on accountability measures for private schools which could receive public funding under the LEARNS Act educational freedom account program. He said private schools will have to be accredited and participate in a national standardized assessment.
“We’re going to put some tight guardrails on what this process looks like because any bad actor out there or somebody that’s not acting in good faith will be held accountable and we’re gonna go after them with the fullest extent that we can,” Oliva said.