A petition for a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish every Arkansan's right to a free, "world-class" education for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade was filed with the secretary of state's office this week.
The Public Schools Amendment of 2022, backed by a group called Arkansans for World Class Education, would require the state Legislature to appropriate an additional $400 per student per year for five consecutive years for each public school, in addition to normal funding sources and appropriations.
Additionally, it would require the state, starting July 1, 2023, to "fairly and professionally" compensate full-time classroom teachers with at least a 5% salary increase for the next four years.
It would also establish annual bonuses to nationally certified classroom teachers, which would be higher if they teach at a school where the majority of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches.
"Ultimately we want to see all Arkansas public schools thriving and also see a boost for the economy of Arkansas. We would love to see Arkansas ranked higher for education, teacher pay, and educated workforce. We also want to be able to retain our wonderful public school teachers at a time when many teachers are leaving the profession nationwide," Julia Taylor, the group's chairwoman, said in an email Wednesday.
The organization has raised $17,900 and spent $7,681 toward the effort, leaving a balance of $10,219 as of Jan. 6, according to documents filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
The measure would also establish a constitutionally independent Division of Primary and Secondary Education that would take the place of the existing Department of Education. The new division would be prohibited from employing anyone who had been a member of the current State Board of Education or a secretary of the Department of Education in the last decade, and division board members would be required to have at least three years of teaching experience.
Taylor said that provision was not included in response to current leadership, but because of the group's belief that teachers are the experts in education.
"We think educators make the best policymakers for education," she said.
To place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, a group must collect at least 89,151 valid signatures of registered voters, or equal to 10% of the votes cast for governor in the 2018 general election. The next general election is in November.