Our View

Our View

Where the real savings on education can come from

We’ve already heard from the Democrat’s fair-haired gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson unrealistic promise to raise the minimum teacher salary to $48,090 over the next 10 years and current Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to also raise the minimum teacher salary, so it comes as no real surprise that we now hear state educators jumping on the political bandwagon.

Teachers’ and administrators’ groups, such as the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, are going around saying teacher salaries have remained close to stagnant in recent years, and the state’s education-funding formula hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

It is now being said that has particularly strained small school districts that don’t generate enough revenue from local property taxes to offer compensation packages competitive enough to attract qualified teachers.

The fear now among these groups is that as Gov. Asa Hutchinson continues on his promise to cut taxes, such as the tax-cut plan in 2015 and 2017 for people with incomes of up to $75,000, there won’t be enough tax dollars left to hand out teacher raises during the upcoming legislative session.

There is also concern over Hutchinson’s plan for an additional cut for the top income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent, which would decrease state revenue by $191.7 million a year.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, and a retired teacher who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said she likes the idea of raising the minimum teacher salary to $36,000 but said it is also important to raise pay for all teachers.

Even Elliott recognizes it is more complicated than just saying “I’m going to raise the beginning salary to $36,000,” and admits that such action would create havoc if new teachers entered the profession making the same amount as teachers who have years of experience.

And Sen. Elliott is absolute correct in her assessment of the situation which leads us to encourage her and other lawmakers to seriously consider completely overhauling the entire state’s public school system.

Let’s look at this situation in a way that is very elementary and should be easily understood by everyone. According to the recent Department of Education data there are 1,053 K-12 public schools, managed by 238 separate school districts, 33,204 certified teachers, charged with overseeing the education of 479,258 K-12 students.

Elliott’s acknowledgment that the state’s “strained small school districts” are at a disadvantage under the current educational tax funding formula is where the major problem lies.

We read all the time about the state’s issue with “financially distressed school districts” and why is that happening? The fact is that there is absolutely no need to have 238 separate school districts in 75 counties.

The solution is to have one school district in each county instead of having multiple districts such as what currently exists. Furthermore, superintendents need to be elected by the citizens of each county rather that appointed and controlled by school boards. They would then be accountable to the citizens rather than a political school board.

The elimination of 165 separate and expensive school districts would result in the savings of millions upon millions of tax dollars and provide for better salaries and better schools that would attract better teachers. Do the math Sen. Elliott and other politicians out there making all these political pie-in-the-sky promises.