Saying he won’t be offering anything more, Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday the teacher strike will end when they realize he’s made them a good offer and they all go back to work.
The governor told Capitol Media Services his plan to boost teacher salaries by 19 percent by the 2020-2021 school year fulfills his promise of a significant pay increase. There’s also restoration of the first $100 million of $371 million that lawmakers have siphoned away from additional aid to schools.
Ducey said his offer meets the key demand of the educator groups whose members voted last week to walk out beginning Thursday.
“So they know it’s been delivered on,” he said. “And it’s time to move forward.”
As of today, though, Ducey can’t even promise that. Republican legislators have yet to approve his proposal, balking at his contention that the package can be funded largely through growth in the economy.
In fact, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said late Wednesday that while lawmakers are working on “a massive teacher pay raise,” there is no guarantee that legislators, worried about the cost of the package, will adopt Ducey’s plan for a 9 percent hike this coming school year and additional 5 percent increases in each of the following two years.
“We’re still working through that,” Mesnard said.
“But whatever it ends up being is going to be something at least close to that, if not that,” he explained. “I think we’re all trying to figure out if we can make that specifically work.”
All that comes as leaders of Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association made a last-minute pitch late Wednesday for Ducey and lawmakers to come up with something more.
That starts with some assurance that the funds will be there. The two groups share the concern of some Republicans that the governor’s estimates of higher tax revenues and lower social service expenses is speculative at best.
But AEA President Joe Thomas noted there are other demands, including getting teacher salaries up to the national median — it would not get there, even with Ducey’s offer — and foregoing further corporate tax cuts until per student funding reaches the national average.
The most recent figures by Governing Magazine put per student funding in Arizona at $7,205 from all sources, compared with a national average of $11,392.
That also comes after lawmakers voted earlier this decade to cut corporate income tax rates by 30 percent on assurances it would grow the economy. But corporate tax collections which were $663 million in 2015 are predicted to be just $252 million this budget year.
But Ducey told Capitol Media Services that he won’t forswear future tax cuts.
“The reason our state is growing so much, the reason people are coming here, the reason people are fleeing California, that our economy is growing, is because we have a great place to live, work, play and do business,” the governor said. And he said a lot of that is because of the state’s attractive tax climate.
“We can do that and address teacher pay,” Ducey said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”
While acknowledging that teachers will walk out today and Friday — many schools already are closed in anticipation — the governor specifically said he expects them to return next week.
“If we move a 20 percent raise to the teachers and there is an ongoing strike, that doesn’t make sense,” Ducey said.
“We’re supposed to be here for the kids, inside the classrooms,” he continued. “We’ve got these parents that are working and are going to be in a real jam in terms of what are they going to do with their kids.”
But Noah Karvelis, one of the organizers of Arizona Educators United, said what the governor does not understand is that the decision of 78 percent of the 57,000 teachers and support staff who voted to walk out is not about themselves or even their salaries.
“If we do not stand up for our kids right now, who will?” he asked.
Less clear is how long educators are prepared to stay out.
Ducey brushed aside questions about whether he can offer them anything more as an inducement to return to the classrooms.
“A 20 percent pay raise by 2020 I think is a win for teachers, for kids and for the state of Arizona,” the governor said. “And that’s what we’re going to deliver on.”
Thomas said the first step is the walkout, including a march on the Capitol.
“We will lift our voices in a way they cannot ignore,” he said.
That still leaves the question of what Thomas believes the walkout will accomplish.
“How it ends is up to the governor and up to those legislative leaders,” Thomas said.
“If they’re courageous, if they have the political capital to come down and speak with us, we all get a win, the students get a win, the educators get to go back to their classrooms and we get to move on and finish out the year strongly,” he said. “But the ball’s in the governor’s court and it has been over a month.”
Thomas noted that he and Karvelis sent a letter to Ducey asking for a meeting to discuss the list of demands. Ducey has refused to meet with either of them, saying he’s talking to individual teachers who also are members of both organizations.
And what of public support?
“We want the parents to understand that this fight is for your child,” Thomas said. And he said parents will stick with educators, even into next week, “as long as we can show them that this fight remains about students.”