Arkansas teachers were given cash bonuses with money that needed to be used up from the state's COVID relief funds.
States are getting creative in finding ways to spend up the millions of federal dollars they received in COVID relief funds. If it’s not spent by 2024, the money disappears. Infrastructure updates, safety measures, and learning loss initiatives are popular ways some states are using these funds. As schools struggle to come up with acceptable ways to spend the cash, Arkansas teachers will now receive a bonus, thanks to the funding.
According to reports from The Associated Press, lawmakers doubled back on promises to allow school districts to make individual decisions on how they wished to spend COVID relief funds. Now, the southern state took back control of nearly $460 million of what’s left of the stimulus money to hand out bonuses for Arkansas teachers. The decision has been criticized across political party lines.
Under this mandate, the state will hand out one-time bonuses to Arkansas teachers and school personnel. For educators, $5,000 will be given, while everyone else will receive $2,500 bonuses. The decision was made because policymakers had been urging districts to use up funds in the form of bonuses, which they largely found to be ignored in most districts.
Democratic lawmakers in the state vehemently opposed the education council’s decision. These politicians have been pushing to increase Arkansas teachers’ salaries instead. To justify this, they point to the $1.6 billion surplus in state funding the department of education has readily available. The average salary of a teacher in the state sits around $49,000, making Arkansas one of the lowest ranking states for teacher pay.
For Democrats, the notion surrounding this move was that it was a side-step to distract educators away from the growing calls for higher salaries. Arkansas teachers have benefited from statewide minimum pay increases over the last few years. However, the starting salary for an incoming educator sits at a meager $36,000, despite the fact that most states, including conjoining ones all have much higher minimums. Arkansas teachers making the minimum threshold of pay sit at poverty levels that make them applicable for many welfare benefits.
A special legislative session will be held in Little Rock on August 8th, but politicians have already asserted that teacher pay increases will not be included in the agenda of topics, despite the growing rally to discuss the concern. Many who opposed this finding fear that the one-time bonuses were merely a tactless move by the council to make up for the fact that they are not addressing the issues at hand.
What’s more, the teacher shortage felt all across the nation is hitting Arkansas schools hard. The state recently partnered with a nonprofit group to create a hub for potential educators to find qualified jobs in the state, but as more and more individuals leave their careers behind, many fear that these initiatives are simply not enough. Cities are so desperate to find Arkansas teachers to fill classrooms, that they are even turning to billboard recruiting on highways.
Likely, no teacher receiving these one-time bonuses will be complaining about having extra cash on hand. However, the majority of teachers understand that this is not a solution to the growing concern, as inflation continues to skyrocket prices all across America. Considering the work put in, teachers can no longer afford to take on excessive college debt and teach for starting wages that sit at the poverty line. Until salary is addressed more broadly, Arkansas teachers will more than likely continue to leave the profession behind.