As Arizona teachers threaten to strike over low wages, Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled a revised budget proposal April 12 that offers educators a 9-percent pay bump in the next school year.
The governor’s latest plan still won’t raise taxes to generate new revenue. And unlike a competing proposal floated by House Republican leaders, it won’t sweep money from other sources of funding proposed for K-12 schools, like the $371 million Ducey pledged to school districts for capital needs like new school buses, textbooks and facility maintenance.
Just days ago, Ducey had characterized teachers rallying behind the “Red for Ed” movement as engaging in “political theater.”
On Thursday, Ducey had a much different response.
“I’ve said I’m on the side of the teachers, and we’ve been listening and I’ve been working,” Ducey said.
Ducey’s proposal relies on a variety of sources, like higher-than-average state revenues and new dollars available from the legislative extension of the Proposition 301 education sales tax. Ducey has also proposed reducing state government operating budgets to pay for the proposal.
State budget analysts recently estimated there may be $46 million in ongoing revenues available thanks to strong revenue collections.
The governor may also roll back some of the legislative initiatives he proposed this year, including a tax break for some veterans. Another item that could be on the table is funds Ducey earmarked for enforcement of a new, wrong-way driving law that charges drivers who go the wrong way on the highway with a felony.
“Our economy has been growing, we have surplus revenues and we’re going to put these toward teacher pay,” Ducey said. “That’ll be the commitment. We’ll have to make other adjustments.”
Ducey’s initial budget proposal in January included a 1-percent pay raise for teachers, following through on the promise of a 2-percent pay bump phased in over two years.
The new plan boosts teacher pay by 9 percent in the upcoming school year, for a total raise of 10 percent since 2017. That amounts to $274 million for teacher pay in the proposed budget for next year, Ducey said at the press conference.
Under Ducey’s plan, when teachers start teaching in the fall they will be paid, on average, $52,725 — up from the current average of $48,372. By 2021, Arizona teachers will make $58,130 on average.
The governor is also promising future raises of 5 percent in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for a cumulative total of 20 percent over a four-year period.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both Chandler Republicans, offered their initial blessing of Ducey’s plan, as did other legislators flanking the governor when he announced the planned pay hikes.
Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said it was crucial that Ducey maintain the promise to restore cuts to capital funding and boost teacher pay.
“(Capital funding) is a critical component of any budget that we have moving forward, because it is important to realize that it is time for us to start restoring a portion of that formula funding that has been suspended for a number of years,” Carter said.
Mesnard, who this week floated a proposal that would have swept capital funding to boost teacher pay, said he supports Ducey’s concept to fund both needs.
“If we can do both additional assistance and teacher pay, that’s fine. If I have to choose, I’m always going to choose teacher pay,” Mesnard said. “Teacher pay has to be the priority.”
To do this, Ducey must now convince a majority of legislators to approve his proposal and give teachers a 9-percent raise this year.
Raises offered in the out years are no guarantee.
Ducey is up for re-election this year, as are all members of the Legislature. Future budgets may be tighter, and a Legislature with a different makeup may resist pay raises Ducey promised in previous budget years.
The governor’s latest proposal comes in the wake of an inspired protest from Arizona teachers, who’ve watched their colleagues in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma spur state leaders to boost funding for K-12 education.
Locally, Arizona teachers hopped on the “Red for Ed” movement this legislative session calling for higher teacher pay and more school funding.
Leaders of Arizona Educators United have called for 20-percent raises. While they haven’t specifically said when they want the raises, they could be dissatisfied with Ducey’s proposal to spread out the pay hike over four years. But Ducey was flanked by dozens of superintendents and other education advocates as he made the announcement.
Ducey’s earlier dismissals of teachers’ demands have left educators so incensed they’ve threatened to strike. Earlier this week, Ducey called the “Red for Ed” movement “political theater.”
Teachers at roughly 1,000 Arizona schools held “walk-ins,” in which educators rallied outside their schools before morning classes began on April 11.
Ducey’s message to those teachers is, “I heard you guys,” Maricopa County School Superintendent Steve Watson said.
“I think it was a great mobilization and movement by the teachers, and it wasn’t just teachers,” Watson said. “It was community members. My kids wore red to school on Wednesdays to show their support and gratitude for teachers. So I think it was the teachers’ ability not just to mobilize themselves, but the entire community.”
Even if education advocates do get on board with Ducey’s proposal, there’s still a chance that lawmakers could tweak the plans as they hash out the state budget.