Hunter Field of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette provided an update today on state government in the time of Gov. Asa Hutchinson — dictating expenses that people down the line have to pay.
The short version: When the governor championed legislation to increase the base pay of teachers, the state didn’t provide enough money to cover more than the first year. The local school districts are left to bear the consequences. Richer districts can do it. Small, poor districts can’t.
The article outlines the situation in detail. This outcome was mentioned at the time the legislation passed, but it was generally lost in the back-patting in the governor’s office and elsewhere.
Starting teacher pay isn’t the only burden for school districts, whose costs rise every year just like everyone else.
I’ve written before about the miserly budget Hutchinson recently proposed for next year. He brags state spending will rise only 1.5 percent. Most of that will go to cover the state’s rising share of the Medicaid expansion (but don’t be misled: the Hutchinson team is moving in numerous ways to cut Medicaid spending to the detriment of the poor and disabled.)
Hutchinson budgeted a whopping two-tenths-of-one percent increase in education spending. At the same time, he aims for another $200 million budget surplus, the better to get ready for another income tax cut benefitting the wealthy. A few pennies for school teachers’ salaries are possible. He just refuses to provide it.
The coronavirus crisis has injected a new budgetary factor for the state and potential surplus use. But this is no less true for school districts, cities, counties and everyone else.
PS: The governor budgeted this increase for UAMS, where coronavirus reaction has become a 24-7 all-hands-on-deck emergency: ZERO.