$10K teacher raise bill stalls; Gress hopes for bipartisan solution

$10K teacher raise bill stalls; Gress hopes for bipartisan solution

teacher pay, Gress, House, salaries, education, K-12
A Republican bill that would give Arizona teachers a $10,000 raise over the next two years stalled as the bill sponsor hopes to reach a bipartisan agreement that Gov. Katie Hobbs can sign. (Photo by Pexels)

A Republican measure that would give Arizona teachers a $10,000 raise over the next two years stalled as the bill sponsor hopes to reach a bipartisan agreement that Gov. Katie Hobbs can sign.

House Republicans supported House Bill 2800 during a floor session on March 27, but the bill wasn’t put up for a vote. Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, told The Arizona Capitol Times that he doesn’t want to force it through the Legislature on party lines just for Hobbs to veto it as legislative Democrats are opposing the bill.

“I think there’s still more work that we can do,” Gress said. “I want to make sure we reach a bipartisan agreement for what really is an issue that has widespread support among independents, Democrats and Republicans. I’m trying to work through that with my Democrat colleagues and I don’t see us adjourning any time soon so I feel like we have runway.”

The proposal is one of the major ideas the freshman legislator campaigned on to keep Arizona teachers from leaving the profession or seeking employment elsewhere. It would give district public and charter teachers a $5,000 raise to their base salary in 2023 and another $5,000 raise in 2024. The Arizona Department of Education would oversee these raises with a “Pay Teachers First Fund” established by the bill.

Gress, House, teacher pay
Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix

Gress said during a press conference about his bill on March 23 with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne that it is expected to cost $400 million during the first year of raises and $700 million the second year.

One issue Democrats raised about the bill is there’s no continuation of funding beyond 2025. The bill does prohibit schools from reducing teacher salaries after the initial years of funding. Its funding would also trigger the school spending cap in the aggregate expenditure limit and Democrats are seeking a long-term fix to what has become an annual problem for the Legislature.

An amendment to the bill that Republicans moved during floor debate would also add a combined $19 million of costs to maintain a school finance transparency website that launched in February, as well as to inspect and review school facility master plans, and administrative audit costs from the auditor general.

“We so often hear accusations from the other side of the aisle that schools are spending too much on administration,” Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, said during debate of the bill. “Well, this review of a review of a review by the auditor general is the definition of duplication and wasteful spending.”

The amendment was part of a floor debate where Democrats tried to stall the bill by arguing it violated a House rule that limits bill amendments to be contained to the subject matter of legislation. Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, said the amendment has nothing to do with teacher pay, but she was overruled by House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert.

Schwiebert tried to offer an additional amendment to Gress’ bill that included a modernization of the expenditure limit funding formula and extended raises to other classroom personnel. It also would allow schools to reduce teacher base salary in the future if there isn’t a sufficient appropriation from the Legislature for the $10,000 raises with school board approval. However, Republicans denied including the amendment.

Gress also told The Arizona Capitol Times that he agreed with some parts of Schwiebert’s amendment to modernize the expenditure limit and give other classroom staff raises.

“I was very encouraged that her amendment left intact the principle of pay teachers first,” Gress said.

House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, also suggested Gress’ bill might not have enough Republican votes to pass after debate of the bill when asked why the bill didn’t come up for a vote. He continued and said he liked the bill because it ensures teachers get a pay boost rather than the monies being used elsewhere by schools.

“When Rep. Gress tells us when he’s ready, we’ll put it up but he’s not ready yet,” Biasiucci said. “It’s $10,000 for teachers. It’s a little weird that Dems are all no.”

One Republican who has expressed opposition to the measure is Rep. Lupe Diaz, R-Benson. When Republicans discussed the bill in a caucus meeting on March 14, Diaz said he only voted to pass the bill out of the House Appropriations Committee to keep it alive since Democrats were voting against it. He said he’d likely vote against the bill on the floor because of the trend of education funding triggering the aggregate expenditure limit.

“I was a ‘no’ vote in committee until it got bizzarro,” Diaz said.

Horne, a Republican, released a statement on March 28 calling for bipartisan support to Gress’ bill also, citing a study from the Department of Education that indicates school districts that allocate a higher percentage of their budgets into the classroom have better student performance.

“No school can be better than the quality of the teachers in the classroom,” Horne said in the statement. “The surrounding states pay more, and we lose good teachers to those states. We cannot afford to let this go on.”

Schwiebert and Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, D-Tucson, admitted it felt strange to them to vote “no” against Gress’ bill in a March 16 opinion column in The Arizona Capitol Times, but called the bill a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and expressed their willingness to negotiate teacher raises in the state budget.