State proposes $20 million COVID-19 educator leave plan

The plan would cover up to two weeks of paid leave for an employee if they have to quarantine for COVID-19 related reasons.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — On Friday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that $20 million has been proposed to cover COVID-19 emergency leave for Arkansas school employees.

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The money would come from CARES Act funding and would be available to teachers and support staff.

The leave would cover up to two weeks of paid leave for an employee if they have to quarantine for COVID-19 related reasons.

“We know that there is going to be a positive case in the school,” Hutchinson said. “We know that because of that we might have to have a staff person that has to quarantine or a teacher that has to quarantine even though they’re not positive. They still have to do that, so we don’t want that to come out of their ordinary leave or their pocket.”

According to state education commissioner Johnny Key, teachers and support staff can access this leave before using normal sick days or other leave options.

The state estimates the allotted $20 million will cover emergency leave through December.

“The 20 million is an estimate,” Key said. “We tried to estimate high because we certainly do not know the level of outbreaks that we could have, but we want to be prepared when and if it does happen.”

Carol Fleming, president of the Arkansas Education Association (AEA), said Friday’s announcement provides peace of mind for educators as they return to work.

“That will allow the employees, the educators, to not have to worry about having the money and receiving their check in order to pay for their bills and to continue to run what they need to in their homes,” Fleming said. 

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The AEA has voiced opposition to in-person learning this fall, citing the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate.

The state’s CARES Act Steering Committee must approve the emergency leave funding for educators. It will likely consider the plan next week, according to Hutchinson.