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Educators rally at Arkansas State Capitol for increase in pay

Dozens gathered at the state capitol on Thursday to call on the governor and other lawmakers to add teacher pay to the agenda of an upcoming special session.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — More than a dozen people gathered at the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol on Thursday.

Organizers and educators called on the governor as well as other lawmakers to add teacher pay to the agenda of an upcoming special session that is scheduled for August.

The educators were all dressed in red to represent "Wear Red for Ed" and marched from the Arkansas Education Association towards the Arkansas Education Council's meeting.

Among the dozens that gathered was long-time 23-year classroom veteran, Kimberly Crutchfield.

"I've always wanted to be that light to other children," Crutchfield said. 

The inspiration for her to become a teacher started when she was a child.

"My mother was a single parent," Crutchfield added.

She said she's thankful for the people who took the time out to continue to pass on the educator's baton.

"They really pushed me, [and] they supported me," Crutchfield remembered.

The average Arkansas teacher's salary is set at $36,000, and Crutchfield fears that students won't have the chances she had because districts have continued to have difficulty hiring and retaining teachers.

"Why don't we continue to have to fight, you know, for teacher and support staff to get just a decent living wage," Crutchfield said.

As lawmakers made their way into the ALC meeting, organizers greeted them with chants and followed them inside so they could listen and plea for better pay.

The ALC meeting went on as normal with budget updates and adjustments to changes that often require votes.

During the meeting, the ALC rescinded its approval from last month of $500 million from the Federal American Rescue Plan that would go to the Arkansas Department of Education.

Instead, the ALC recommended that the funds be used to give teachers a one-time $5,000 bonus.

"Why are those legislators not willing to put money into our public schools," Carol Fleming, Arkansas Education Association president said.

She added that she's hopeful Governor Asa Hutchinson will add to the agenda for the special session set for August.

"Let our legislators know, those who represent us, that this is an important issue and we need to address this," Fleming said.

Governor Hutchinson released a statement on Thursday about the ALC's decision:

While I am pleased the Arkansas Legislative Council supports funding bonus pay for teachers, their action to rescind $500 million in spending authority for the Arkansas Department of Education is contrary to the Council’s statutory authority and contrary to the principles of separation of powers underlying the Arkansas Revenue Stabilization Act.

"I am disappointed by the Legislative Council’s vote to rescind its approval to give the Arkansas Department of Education authority to spend $500 million in American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund. Just as the General Assembly could not recall a bill from my desk that had already been signed into law, ALC may not undo the lawful appropriations under Act 199 through a parliamentary maneuver. 

"Under the appropriation passed last month the schools could use the funds for teacher bonuses and incentives. The big change now is that the schools must submit plans which must go back to the legislature for additional review.

 "In other words, the local school district priorities may not be approved. I am concerned that teachers in some districts will get a bonus, but others may not. The creative approach by the committee today while well-intentioned is not the best approach to helping our teachers."

RELATED: Gov. Asa Hutchinson disagrees with rescinding $500M in education funding


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