LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas Legislative Council voted Thursday to scrap a plan that would give the Dept. of Education spending power over $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief money. Those in favor said this will be a step to get teachers more money after many called for a salary boost.

State Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R) said in the meeting Tuesday that the move will allow, “school districts to use available funds to provide retention bonuses to teachers in the amount of $5,000 each.”

Additionally, the recommendation would be for districts to provide $2,500 bonuses for school staff members. Under the passed plan, districts would be required to come up with plans and present them before approval.

This comes at a time when a groundswell of Arkansas teachers have called for higher pay to match salaries seen in surrounding states. Many called for the state to take this up in an upcoming special session geared toward $1.6 billion in surplus money. Legislators said that is a long shot.

“I hope we can do it in the special session, but if not, I do have some optimism that there will be something done,” said State Sen. Jim Hendren (I). “Whether it will be enough is up to debate.”

Hendren said he disagrees with this plan, noting districts are now confused after the initial Dept. of Education plan passed last month. He said some districts will likely use the money for other needs, and some teachers may not get the bonuses they deserve.

A math teacher who asked to not be identified said he thinks some schools would keep money away from teachers.

“A lot of schools will use it for other sources,” the teacher said. “Which will encourage those teachers to quit, you know?”

The teacher said many teachers would be okay with the one-time bonuses but only if salaries are addressed in the next regular session. “The solution’s simple,” the teacher said. “Let’s pay people a professional wage, so we can retain the best people and we could encourage people to go into teaching.”