TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Transforming education: The LEARNS Act's impact on teacher salaries in Arkansas

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Arkansas has put a stake in the ground when it comes to ensuring every teacher is paid a professional wage. For many years, Arkansas teachers could earn far more if they worked in the few urban areas in the state, leading to persistent teacher shortages in rural areas. In March 2023, Arkansas passed the Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and School Safety Act (LEARNS). One result of the new law was restructuring teacher salaries in an effort to attract and retain high-quality educators while fostering greater compensation equity across districts. A recent research brief from the University of Arkansas analyzes how LEARNS has influenced teacher salaries statewide in its first year of enactment.

One of the primary goals of LEARNS was to raise teacher salaries, particularly for perennially lower-paid educators in high-need areas and low-performing schools. With state funding, LEARNS increased the minimum teacher salary across the state from $36,000 to $50,000 (about equivalent to the average salary in the state), guaranteed all teachers a minimum raise of $2,000, and removed or relaxed some districts' salary schedule requirements. Previously, over half of teachers statewide earned salaries lower than the new minimum of $50,000.

LEARNS achieved its initial goal: Starting teachers' salaries became more equally distributed across the state after the law went into effect. However, larger, more urban districts maintained their advantage of higher salaries for more experienced teachers. While the act did not eradicate these differences, research suggests that it has made strides in reducing salary disparities across districts.

Adapted from Zamarro, G., Camp, A., McGee, J., Wilson, T., & Vernon, M. (2023). Changes in teacher salaries under the Arkansas LEARNS Act.

As far as recruitment and retention of teachers, the impact of LEARNS remains to be seen. New teachers may be encouraged to teach in rural or high-poverty districts now that the minimum pay is the same statewide, but more seasoned teachers may still prefer to teach in larger districts that compensate for higher levels of experience. Since experience has some bearing on teacher quality, the continued salary gap for experienced teachers may still affect the overall quality of education across the state. Researchers plan to examine the effect of LEARNS on teacher recruitment and retention in the future.

This article was updated on April 1, 2024 to reflect the correct name of the LEARNS Act.