Teaching qualifications

The injustice of our legislators towards teachers

“There’s a cost to silence and a cost to using your voice, and every day I wake up and decide what bill I’m going to pay.”

I read this quote one day while browsing Twitter. The person who tweeted it couldn’t remember who said it as she was live-tweeting from a leadership conference somewhere. But she said it stopped her in her tracks, and it did the same to me.

Silence about injustice is not a good option. However, I have been somewhat lost in finding the right words since attending the Joint Education Committee meeting on October 3rd. Arkansas Strong held a sit-in for the few of us who could be there to represent the public educators of Arkansas, who were of course, they work full time to teach 92 percent of the school children in the ‘State.

Then I expressed some of my greatest feelings with other sit-inners, who shared theirs. “You should write about it,” said one. “You have such a great way with words.” But those weren’t nice words I thought. They were angry. And I never want to write – or otherwise operate – from a place of anger. Not if I can help it.

One of my life policies is to try to approach people and situations with the benefit of the doubt. I do this because it’s the golden rule, and that’s how I want others to do me. It is also insurance against callousness and cynicism. So while I’ve been deeply let down by lawmakers over the past few years, I tried to put grace before me when I made the two-hour trip to the Capitol.

After all, this was the meeting where they had the chance to keep their word – everyone who voted against staying in special session to discuss teacher raises. In August, they told us that it was not because they were against us. When we asked where they were, most of their correspondence contained some form of this response: I am for teacher raises. But not in special session. I want to do it the right way, you see. This is not the moment. There is a proper procedure that we must follow. After the suitability study, we will make recommendations. It’s the right order of things. This is how it should be done.

I was not inclined to believe this based on past experience. I also failed to understand the implication that concerned citizens were foolish enough to believe that a tax cut for wealthy Arkansans is more of an “emergency” than the crisis in education – and therefore material of special session – while teachers’ salaries aren’t, or in some other ways, tax cuts are good management of the $1.6 billion surplus, but using it for increases in teachers is a bad thing. Still, I hoped that the desire to do well eventually, and perhaps more in-depth based on the study, might eventually be true. At least for some.

But evidence from the recent meeting proves otherwise.

I had a sinking feeling when Rep. Bruce Cozart, House Ed committee chairman, came downstairs to greet the row of ladies in red who were with me in the audience. One of them asked: “Do you have a proposal for a raise for teachers?” He said yes, and that was great. “You’ll love it.” She pressed, “Do you want to tell us about it?” He smiles.

“Oh no, I can’t do that now.” He choked the air with his hands. “It has to go through the process. You’ll have to wait. But I think the teachers are going to be really happy.”

Cozart went on to say that he had a “bad reputation” and asserted, again, that he really was a big supporter of public schools. It was odd since the only bad rap I know of was the one he gave to educators at a Garland County Tea Party meeting where he said, “The reason people lose faith in schools is because of teachers not wanting to do what they have to do for the betterment of the children. It’s not their priority. Their priority is just themselves. Maybe he thought we wouldn’t know it’s a quote straight from his mouth?

I mention this interaction because it so perfectly reflects the pervasive attitude of a super majority of legislators toward teachers: my experience since the first time I tried to engage at a House Ed Committee meeting. years ago, the atmosphere of the ALC meeting this summer, the tone of the not-so-special session, and the outcome of that last meeting where it was proposed that Arkansas raise the salary state teacher minimum at $40,000. This travesty of justice was the proposition Cozart believed we educators would like.

What mental gymnastics does a legislator – or group of legislators – have to perform to presume this? Is the lack of respect intentional or the blindness caused by the corruption of power? Maybe it doesn’t matter, since the consequences are the same in both cases: Arkansas’ 30,000 highly qualified and professionally certified teachers – and those bright young minds who are considering going into profession – are increasingly demoralized, denigrated and disappear.

Consider the hubris of this scenario: In 2022, the minimum wage for part-time legislators in Arkansas is $44,357. Plus, if they live within 50 miles of the Capitol, they get $59 a day; the price increases to $155 per day if they live further away. On top of that, they are paid 58.5 cents per mile driven. No university degree is required, no professional certification; they don’t even need to know the law. (I would add that they don’t need to have knowledge or experience in any of the areas they set rules and spend millions on, such as education, medicine, agriculture, small business, transportation, public safety, etc.)

The minimum salary for a full-time beginning teacher in the state of Arkansas is $36,000. There is no per diem or mileage provided. At least a bachelor’s degree is required, as well as formal certification and licensing, which includes passing the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching exam, and other Praxis exams in one’s specialty area.

Ours is the lowest starting salary in our region, which is the lowest paid region in the country. Because neighboring states pay better, they recruit our teachers fresh out of college. Many also recruit our veteran teachers because of better pay and benefits all the way up the ladder.

Yet even after the fiscally conservative governor and ADE proposed raising the base salary of teachers by $10,000, backed by a solid plan for how it could be funded in a fiscally responsible way, our legislature has retreated. Then they refused the compromise proposed by the governor, and another proposed by the Democratic caucus.

Elected Officers – who have no qualifications other than citizenship, residency in their district, and who are at least 21 years old, who receive a salary of $44,347, plus per diem and mileage, plus employee benefits. part-time job – denied the professional educators had to be responsible for the mental, emotional and physical health of 473,861 school children in Arkansas.

The offer from the House Education Committee, pushed by Representatives Cozart, Evans and Vaught, is $40,000. Which keeps us behind not only them, as part-time legislators, but also educators in the rest of the region. That’s more than $5,000 less than the part-time salaries of every legislator who supports him, when factoring in even a few days of their daily and mileage expenses. For our full-time jobs. And they expect us to be happy – to “like” it.

Much of the discussion at the meeting compared schools to businesses. There is a popular call from the supermajority for them to be more effectively managed as such. But a savvy businessperson knows that to attract and retain the most talented people in key positions, they must be well compensated.

Unfortunately, many large companies exploit their less skilled workers by paying them poorly because they see them as easy to replace. This corporate greed and arrogance manifests itself in legislators’ disdain for educators. Rather than recognizing that we are the keys to the future of our children – and therefore of our state – they do not appreciate our hard-earned skills. They think we are easy to replace.

They are wrong.

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry is an English teacher and editorial director of the nonpartisan group Arkansas Strong. (http://arstrong.org) Email him at [email protected]