Clint Penzo’s campaign mailer says he supported teacher pay increases. The boast is really a bluff.
In a recent campaign mailer for Senate District 31, Rep. Clint Penzo claims he voted to raise teacher pay in 2017, 2019, and 2021. The problem is, Penzo fails to mention he voted against adding teacher pay raises to the August 2022 special legislative session, despite the Governor’s support for increased pay. If Clint cares about educators, why didn’t he support raises this fall?
First, let’s take a look at Penzo’s claim that he raised salaries prior to this year. In 2017, the base salary for Arkansas teachers was an abysmal $31,000. That year the legislature voted to up base salaries by 400 bucks to $31,400. The 2019 General Assembly pushed salaries up to a slightly-less abysmal $33,800, with an additional increase of $1,100 for educators starting in 2022. That put starting teacher pay for the 2022 school year at $34,900. This is $10,600 lower than starting teacher pay in Mississippi, where new educators join the workforce making $45,500 a year. Clint Penzo champions his teacher pay votes, but those votes secured Arkansas’s position as one of the lowest-paying states for teachers in the country. This is not something to brag about on a campaign mailer.
Second, let’s consider that Clint Penzo voted against adding teacher pay raises to the August special session this year. Members in the majority party were ready to speed up tax breaks but did not want educator pay raises on the call; raises could wait until 2023, they said. The juxtaposition of lawmakers putting tax cuts above struggling public school educators was glaring. Educators demanded raises, but only Democrats listened, proposing legislation that would increase teacher and support staff pay. But Penzo and the bulk of the GOP voted against teacher pay. Rep. Clint Penzo voted to speed up tax cuts for the wealthy yet ignored educators’ pleas from around the state.
Clint Penzo knows he cannot be “against” teacher pay again; it’s too risky of a political position, especially for a candidate running in an open seat. But Clint Penzo was not for our teachers when they needed it most. His mailer is misleading and panders to some of the hardest working people in the state of Arkansas. If Clint really cared about our educators, he would have voted to raise salaries in August. He did not. And Arkansas teachers are not going to forget it.