Jun 13, 2023 - Education

What teacher salaries in NWA look like since LEARNS

Illustration of an apple made of money.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

School boards across all districts in NWA have approved new pay ranges ahead of the 2023-24 academic year in accordance with the LEARNS Act.

Driving the news: LEARNS, the sweeping education bill spearheaded by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was approved this spring, requiring school districts to pay teachers a minimum salary of $50,000, up from $36,000. All teachers must receive at least a $2,000 pay bump this coming school year, even if they are already making $50,000 or more.

  • This makes Arkansas' starting pay one of the highest nationwide.
  • The new law also eliminates the requirement for districts to have a step salary schedule. Previously, teachers were guaranteed to make more money for additional experience and education and got annual raises no matter what.

Flashback: Some lawmakers and members of the public expressed concern about doing away with salary schedules and some who voted against LEARNS cited it as a reason for their vote. Democrats had proposed a $50,000 minimum salary as well as raises for classified staff such as bus drivers and janitors while keeping the salary schedule requirement in a separate bill that failed to pass.

By the numbers: It's business as usual for the four largest school districts — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville — which already paid at least $50,000 or just below before LEARNS. Those districts are keeping their salary schedules with annual raises.

  • Teachers with bachelor's degrees but no experience will make $50,000 in Rogers, $51,924 in Bentonville, $52,000 in Fayetteville and $53,000 in Springdale.
  • Siloam Springs, which previously paid a starting salary of $43,250, also kept yearly step increases and pay incentives for more education.

The intrigue: In the wake of LEARNS, several districts chose a hybrid option — adopting a salary schedule, but not necessarily an annual salary boost.

  • For example, Farmington — which previously paid a minimum of $42,300 — will give teachers with bachelor's degrees a $50,000 salary and teachers with master's degrees $51,000 for the first five years. Teachers will then receive $250 more a year until their 15th year, after which they get $525 more per year.
  • In Greenland, teachers with bachelor's degrees won't make more than $50,000 until they have 25 years of experience. Teachers with master's degrees will see a raise with 15 years of experience.
  • Pea Ridge, West Fork, Gravette, Gentry and Prairie Grove also adopted hybrid policies.

Lincoln, Elkins and Decatur did not implement salary schedules and will raise salaries in accordance with the LEARNS requirements.

  • Decatur was the only district across Benton and Washington counties that paid some teachers only the state-mandated minimum of $36,000 until this year. Steven Watkins, superintendent at Decatur, told Axios the district will revisit the issue next year and may consider reinstating step raises. The district will not need to cut staff or programs to afford the raises because the state is covering enough of the costs, he said.
  • Elkins previously paid $37,750, and Lincoln paid $40,000.

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