Region & State

Committee tables legislation to increase funding for classified employee pay

By ANTOINETTE GRAJEDA | Arkansas Advocate

The Senate Education Committee tabled a bill Wednesday that would increase per-student foundation funding in order to support a raise for public school districts’ classified employees.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 149, which would increase per-student foundation funding amounts from $7,349 to $8,195 for the 2023-2024 school year and $8,370 for the 2025-2026 school year.

While there has been much discussion about increasing teacher pay, Leding said, classified employees have “been largely left out of that conversation.”

Classified employees are school employees who don’t require teaching licenses, like administrative assistants, bus drivers and janitors. 

 Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) listens to Keisha Dunn from the Little Rock School District speak in favor of his bill to increase funding in support of raises for classified staff. | Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate

“These are the people that keep our schools running smoothly so that education can happen,” Leding said.

Keisha Dunn, a classified employee at Jefferson Elementary in Little Rock, spoke in favor of the bill. Dunn said inflation is difficult to keep up with and a little raise would be helpful for staff, many of whom want to keep working for the district, but may not be able to afford it with their current salary.

“I’m working two and three jobs just to make ends meet. I’m barely home with my kids because I’m trying to make ends meet,” she said. “The rent is going up, food costs, everything is going up, so how can classified [staff] maintain a living off of what we are making right now?”

SB 149 proposes that the Arkansas Department of Education advise public school districts to pay classified employees at least $15 an hour, beginning with the 2023-2024 school year. They currently receive $11 an hour, the state’s minimum wage.

The classified staff raise comes from a recommendation in the 2022 educational adequacy study to raise the per-pupil foundation amount for non-teacher employees. SB 149 doubles the initial recommendation from a $2-an-hour increase to $4 more an hour.

The Senate and House education committees met jointly last year to discuss school funding and review the adequacy of education spending, a requirement imposed by the landmark court case, Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee.

Lawmakers have conducted these adequacy reviews every two years since 2003 to ensure public school funding is equitable. The Senate and House issued two separate reports last year, but both recommended increasing classified employees’ pay by $2 an hour.

Leding said the $4-an-hour increase is expected to cost $43 million.

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