LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday recommended lawmakers increase funding for public schools by $550 million over the next two years to boost teacher salaries, as the Republican preparing to leave office in January.
Hutchinson presented his budget recommendations to a legislative panel days after the Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders was elected next governor of the state. Hutchinson, who has been barred by term limits from running for re-election, acknowledged that the decision on the budget will rest with the legislature and Sanders next year.
Hutchinson said his funding proposal “allows the next administration and the General Assembly maximum flexibility in terms of increasing teacher salaries and improving education outcomes in the state.”
The proposal calls for increasing funding for public schools by $200 million in the fiscal year that begins in July 2023 and by $350 million the following year.
Earlier this year, Hutchinson called on lawmakers to raise teachers’ salaries, but decided not to put it on the agenda for a special session in August due to a lack of support within. the majority Republican Legislative Assembly.
The House and Senate Education Committees have since approved proposals to give teachers $4,000 raises, though they differ on when the raises should be given.
Sanders, who announced her transition team on Thursday, did not say whether she agreed with Hutchinson’s budget recommendation.
“Governor-elect Sanders looks forward to continued conversations with the Governor and her legislative partners during the transition as she works to craft a budget that makes government lean and efficient, lowers taxes and prioritizes to the promises she made to the Arkansans to make our state one of the best in which to live, work and raise a family,” Sanders spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
Hutchinson recommended increasing the state’s overall budget by 5% to $6.3 billion in the next fiscal year. The budget proposal projects that the state will end this year with a surplus of nearly $255 million.
Hutchinson, who has clashed with the Legislature in recent years over issues such as banning transgender medical care and Restrictions related to COVID-19alluded to the sometimes rocky relationship as he addressed lawmakers.
“When iron hits iron, what do you get? You get some sparks,” Hutchinson said, referring to a Bible passage. “But you also get a cleaner result, and I believe our relationship has reflected this scriptural principle.”