LITTLE ROCK — The Democratic nominee for governor of Arkansas said he plans to raise minimum pay for teachers by an initial 10 percent with the ultimate goal of making Arkansas teachers the highest paid in the nation.
Jared Henderson said Thursday that following the initial raise, he will call for 3.6 percent salary increases for nine subsequent years.
Henderson's proposal came more than a month after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed a 13 percent pay hike for teachers. That would raise the starting salaries from $31,800 to $36,000. In Henderson's plan, teachers would make approximately that much the second year of pay raises.
In the short term, Henderson said he would fund the pay increase by reallocating money from a tax cut proposed by Hutchinson. Henderson offered fewer specifics for long-term funding but suggested lowering prison spending.
Teacher salaries have increased under Hutchinson and with his new proposal, the net increase will be about 25 percent, said Hutchinson campaign spokesman Jamie Barker.
In a statement, Barker said Henderson's plan relied on "speculation and abandoning our commitment to public safety."
After a decade under Henderson's plan, teachers' salaries would start at $48,000. Henderson said the total cost, including adjusting for inflation and additional teachers, would be around $870 million, about two-thirds of which is a true pay increase.
Henderson also said he wants to increase teacher incentives by offering more competitive healthcare plans and loan forgiveness options, but gave few specifics on how to fund those benefits.
Increasing teacher's salaries is "an urgent challenge," Henderson said. "For far too many communities which don't always have a voice in the political process, this was needed years ago."
Henderson faces an uphill challenge in the predominantly Republican state. Before running for governor, Henderson was an executive for Teach for America, an education nonprofit.