EdPolicyWorks Speaker Series: Dr. Gema Zamarro

Changes in Teacher Salaries and Turnover Under The Arkansas Learns Act

  • - EDT
  • Holloway Hall (Bavaro Hall 116)


Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in the profession is a matter of significant policy concern. In this respect, increasing teacher salaries and creating more attractive compensation packages are often proposed to achieve this goal. In addition to increasing pay, more flexibility in designing teacher compensation policies could also assist school districts in hard-to-staff areas in finding better ways to attract teachers to these positions. To date, lawmakers in at least 23 states have proposed bills that increase minimum teacher salaries and offer other bonuses to improve teacher recruitment and retention, particularly in shortage areas. Six of these bills have been signed into law, including the Arkansas LEARNS Act. Signed in March 2023, the LEARNS Act increased the state's minimum teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000, guaranteed all teachers a minimum raise of $2,000, and removed requirements that salary schedules offer incremental pay based on experience and education. While the state is providing the necessary funds to meet these requirements, districts have the flexibility to adjust their salary schedules to reward educators based on experience and education or implement more creative approaches to teacher compensation. To study how school districts in Arkansas adjusted to the new legislation, we collected information about Arkansas districts' teacher compensation policies one year before the implementation of the LEARNS Act (2022-23) and during the first year of implementation (2023-24). We also integrate this district-level data with teachers' administrative records to study how salary schedules might have changed patterns of teacher retention and mobility in the state. Our dataset covers the universe of public-school employees, enabling us to track individual teachers throughout their time in the Arkansas education workforce. Our results reveal that, in 2022-23, starting teacher salaries in most districts in Arkansas were significantly lower than the new minimum salary of $50,000. As a result of the new legislation starting teacher salaries became more equally distributed, with minimal variation across districts. The LEARNS Act also provided substantially more funding to rural and higher poverty districts, reducing the negative and significant association between starting teacher salaries and higher rates of district poverty. However, more differentiation in pay across districts reappears as teachers gain experience and it remains advantageous to work in more urban districts that continue to offer higher salaries to their experienced teachers. This could have future implications for the equitable distribution of experienced teachers across the state.

Speaker Bio

Gema Zamarro Headshot

Gema Zamarro is a Professor in Education Reform and Economics at the University of Arkansas and 21st Century Endowed Chair in Teacher Quality at the Department of Education Reform. Dr. Zamarro's research is motivated by policy-relevant questions and the use of rigorous methods to help inform education and labor policy. Her current research focuses on the study of teacher labor markets, teacher recruitment and retention, teacher quality and teacher pensions issues, measurement and development of socio-emotional skills, determinants of gender gaps in STEM, and gender and education impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Zamarro’s work has been featured numerous times in the media and has helped inform policy both at the state and national levels. For the past two years, she has been ranked by Education Week among the 200 most influential education scholars in the U.S. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Carlos III University in Madrid, Spain, and her master’s and doctorate from CEMFI, a leading institution in research and graduate education in economics in Europe founded by the Bank of Spain.


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  • EdPolicyWorks