LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas House and Senate Democrats held a press conference on August 10 at the state Capitol, highlighting the RAISE Act for increasing teacher pay and other proposals that “should have been taken up in the current extraordinary session, rather than tax cuts for corporations and highest earners,” according to a press release.

“An extraordinary session is an opportunity to address extraordinary needs,” said Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis). “Arkansas Democrats know it’s our job to make smart investments that will help us solve real problems. And with a surplus of over $1.6 billion dollars, the highest surplus in state history, we have a unique opportunity to address urgent needs that will improve the lives of ALL of the people we were elected to represent.”

Democrats reintroduced the RAISE Act, which provides $4,000 raises to all licensed educators, raises the minimum salary to $42,000, and creates the new Teacher Pay Sustainability Fund. Democrats also introduced a complementary proposal to create the Public School Classified Staff Retention and Recruitment Fund, which would provide sustainable pay increases to classified staff. 

“We have the money. We have the plan. We definitely have the need. But we don’t have the votes. It is a huge missed opportunity to refuse to raise teacher and support staff pay in this session with this surplus,” said Rep. Reginald Murdock (D-Marianna). Democrats also discussed other urgent needs that should be taken up in the current special session, such as allowing exceptions to Arkansas’ restrictive total abortion ban.

“We’re also hearing about more than teacher pay. We are hearing, for instance, from women & healthcare providers about the urgent need for exceptions to Arkansas’s extreme abortion ban,” said Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-West Little Rock). “The law as it stands today provides no exceptions for rape, incest, lethal fetal anomaly, or the health of the mother. Further, without rape or incest exceptions, Arkansas’s current abortion law is in conflict with federal Medicaid rules, putting us at risk for losing billions of dollars in federal funding.”

House and Senate Democrats expressed disappointment that the priority of their Republican colleagues was to cut taxes for the wealthiest Arkansans rather than increase teacher pay. Rep. Andrew Collins (D-Little Rock) offered an alternative proposal to the Republican tax bill. “Instead of another tax cut for top earners, we could meaningfully help Arkansas families struggling with inflation by doubling the tax credit in the Republican bill, making it refundable so it will help working-class families, and leaving the top tax rates alone,” said Collins.

To close out the press conference, Democrats called on Arkansans to join them in asking legislators to stay in the extraordinary session until the issue of educator pay is addressed. “Make no mistake, we have a choice about how to spend this historic surplus,” said Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock). “We’ve been called here to cut taxes for Arkansas’s top earners, but there is another option. We can also provide real support to teachers and support staff, the profession that is the foundation for the future of our state, and we can do it now, at a time of real need. We’re not leaving until we do right by educators. Vote to stay for teacher pay.”