Ducey proposes pay raises for nearly half of state employees in $11.4 billion budget

Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to grant pay raises to nearly half of all state employees, with an emphasis on boosting salaries for law enforcement and corrections officers.

About 45 percent of the state workforce, or 15,000 of Arizona’s roughly 33,200 employees, would see salary increases of 5 percent or more in the $11.4 billion budget plan Ducey released Friday.

Most of the $74 million allocated in the budget for pay hikes goes to law enforcement officials, such as corrections officers and highway patrol. Pay raises at other agencies are awarded only to those employees certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

Corrections officers would get a 10-percent pay bump. Officials expect the higher salaries — average pay would increase from $37,000 to $40,700 annually — to help reduce the department’s nearly 20 percent turnover rate for corrections officers. Ducey plans to follow through with another 5-percent pay raise in the next budget cycle.

Ducey also proposed 10-percent pay raises to Department of Public Safety troopers, and a 5-percent pay bump for non-police officers within the agency.

As the Department of Child Safety continues to fail to meet benchmarks set for hiring caseworkers, Ducey plans to attract more workers with a 9-percent pay increase for agency caseworkers and case aides. DCS has a 35-percent turnover rate and has yet to hire the 1,406 caseworkers mandated by state lawmakers, according to figures provided by the Governor’s Office.

Most other law enforcement employees throughout the state would receive pay raises of about 5 percent, with the exception of those that work within the Department of Juvenile Corrections and Department of Health Services, who would receive 15-percent raises.

Ducey’s budget also provides a roadmap to his other spending priorities, including education, infrastructure and some of his pet projects, such as his school safety plan and additional funding for career and technical education and the Arizona Teachers Academy.

Thanks to an estimated $1.1 billion cash surplus, the governor has a sizable chunk of change to spend with this budget cycle. Instead, he proposes saving approximately half of that amount in Arizona’s rainy-day fund and spending the other half on various initiatives.

As the governor outlined in his “State of the State” address, Ducey wants to boost the rainy-day fund by $542 million, which would bring the balance up to $1 billion. That’s roughly 9 percent of total revenue estimates for FY20.

Deposits to the rainy day fund could be even greater if there’s a windfall for state coffers from tax conformity, though the governor’s budget does not account for those potential revenues.


college-books-webThe governor’s plan fulfills the next step in a three-year plan to boost teacher pay, boosting funding for K-12 public schools by a total of $233 million. That’ll translate to a 5-percent pay raise for teachers, and new dollars to school districts for additional assistance.

Performance-based funding would go to more than triple the current number of schools under Ducey’s plan, which overhauls the process by which schools qualify for those dollars and more than doubles the amount of funding available to high-performing schools.

Ducey’s budget would add $60 million to the Results Based Funding program on top of the $38 million provided in FY19, for a total of $98 million in FY20. Those dollars will go to 675 schools throughout the state, roughly half of the 2,000 district and charter schools in Arizona.

The dramatic increase in the number of schools affected by those funds — only 285 receive such funding in FY19 — is due to a shift in the formula to qualify.

Currently, schools are judged based on AzMerit test scores. But that standard can no longer apply universally after the Legislature adopted a bevy of possible tests to track student achievement at the high school level.

Instead, the new standard will rely on the A-F letter grades assigned to schools by the Department of Education, and the grading system that takes a more holistic approach to judging schools for their performance. All schools with an “A” grade would be eligible for Results Based

Funding, a total of 454 “A” schools with at least 60 percent of the student population on free-and-reduced lunch would receive an extra $400 per pupil, while all other “A” schools would receive $225 per pupil. “B” schools in low-income areas, those schools with at least 60 percent of the student body on FRL, would also get $225 per pupil.

The Governor’s Office estimates that of those 675 schools eligible for the funding, 83 percent are districts schools, while 17 percent are charters.

Overall, roughly 36 percent of the schools are in low-income areas where most students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The new funding comes with new reporting requirements. While no details were immediately provided, the governor wants to ensure that schools are reporting not just how they’re spending those dollars, but where. That’s because the Results Based Funding is distributed not to specific schools, but to school districts.

At minimum, 51 percent of those funds must be spent at “A” or “B” schools, but remaining balance can be spent elsewhere in a school district. That leaves open the possibility that dollars earned by one high-performing school can help other struggling schools in the same district.


(Photo courtesy Arizona Motor Vehicle Division)
(Photo courtesy Arizona Motor Vehicle Division)

With a new vehicle registration fee to pay for public safety freeing up nearly $100 million of Highway User Revenue Fund money, or HURF, half of which goes to the state, Ducey is looking to widen Interstate 17.

Work has already begun to expand the road between Sunset Point and south of Black Canyon City, but Ducey’s budget calls for an additional FY19 appropriation of $40 million to start work on a third lane between Anthem and Black Canyon City on the northbound side and several miles of southbound.

The governor also projected another $45 million in both FY20 and 21 to finish the project, for a total of $130 million worth of new investment in that stretch of congested highway, saying expanding the road would increase safety.

That’s all in addition to the State Transportation Board’s scheduled allocation of $193 million to design and construct the I-17 expansion project.

The governor is also calling for an additional $10.5 million from HURF to fund preventative road surface maintenance, bringing the total budget for that up to $51 million, enough to fully fund all ADOT’s preventative maintenance requests, according to the Governor’s Office.

In the last decade, the Mariposa Port of Entry on the west side of Nogales has dropped from the top site for fresh fruit imports to the third place slot behind Laredo and Hidalgo, Texas. After spending millions in recent years to expand the port, Ducey is proposing a $700,000 investment to construct a cold inspection facility, with local partners including the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, putting up the remaining $300,000.

The administration and local business groups hope that will incentivize produce importers with avocados, berries and other temperature sensitive fruits to run their product through Nogales.

That could mean up to $30 million in product traveling through the state annually, and pulling in up to $4 million per year in state and local tax revenues, according to the estimates from a University of Arizona study.

Other spending priorities

The budget allocates funding for several initiatives Ducey mentioned in his “State of the State” speech Monday.

After pledging, then failing to deliver, $11 million in additional funding for school resource officers last year, Ducey is proposing $9 million for school-resource officer grants this year, which he says will provide an additional 89 officers, totaling about 200 provided by the grant program.

The proposal would supply officers to about one out of every 10 schools in the state, fulfilling requested demands for police officers in schools, according to the administration.

Since the grant funding has not kept up with demand for so long, many school districts have simply quit applying, and have found other ways to pay for officers, meaning demand is likely much higher than the governor is estimating.

The governor wants to pump $21 million into the Arizona Teachers Academy, a program that was launched in 2017 with no additional funding in the FY18 budget for the universities to execute it. Instead, universities were left to find the dollars needed to provide free tuition for teachers who agree to teach in Arizona schools in their existing budgets, opening the opportunity up to only about 200 students to start; there are currently about 230 students enrolled.

With the money proposed by Ducey in his executive budget, enrollment is expected to expand to about 3,800 students, according to the Governor’s Office.

That far exceeds the Board of Regents’ growth expectations back in 2017. With no help from the state government to cover the cost of the program, ABOR expected to have just 730 students enrolled in the academy by its fifth year. The governor also wants to expand eligibility to juniors and seniors who are majoring in STEM fields and to non-resident and post-baccalaureate community college students.

Ducey’s proposal would also allow students to request tuition benefits for up to four years — students have so far been able to receive up to two years — and would provide for annual $1,000 stipends for students who agree to teach in critical-need areas after they graduate.

Backed by $36 million, Ducey is also pushing for increased investment in career and technical education.

His budget creates a $10 million incentive program that would provide a $1,000 payment to career and technical schools for each high school student that earns an industry certification in specific high-demand fields like manufacturing, health care and construction, among others.

Ducey also wants to direct $20 million to Pima Community College’s Aviation Technology Center. The contribution is designed to meet growing workforce demands from in-state aviation companies like Boeing.

The governor also aims to direct $6 million to expand healthcare training at Maricopa Community College District.

Unsurprisingly, Ducey’s budget also includes the $35 million in state funding he previously promised in an attempt to solidify Arizona’s drought plan, which in turn, means the state could sign onto the multi-state Drought Contingency Plan.

Ducey proposes spending sweeps, reductions and rosy revenues to fund teacher raise

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey plans on funding a 20 percent teacher raise over the next three years with rosy revenue projections and a mix of funding sweeps, lottery revenues and spending reductions.

State budget analysts provided legislators an analysis of Ducey’s plan, which the governor announced on April 12 amid emphatic teacher protests and threats of a strike. The governor promised he would push for a 9-percent raise in 2018, to be followed by 5 percent raises in the next two years.

That plan would cost the state $240 million in fiscal year 2019 alone. By FY21, the cost rises to $580 million, according to budget documents obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times.

In fiscal year 2019, that includes $176 million added to the base funding formula for K-12 schools, and $64 million in one-time dollars meant to act as “bridge” to the adjustment in Proposition 301 approved by the Legislature. The Prop. 301 extension, approved in March, will shift $64 million in debt servicing to the Classroom Site Fund in fiscal year 2022, when the debt is paid off.

On top of those dollars, another $165 million would be added for teacher pay in fiscal year 2020, followed by $175 million in FY21.

To accomplish that amount of education spending, millions of dollars proposed for other state programs would be swept for education funding.

That includes $500,000 for the Attorney General’s Border Crimes Unit, $2 million in one-time funding for the developmentally disabled, $1 million for healthcare in private prisons and $8 million in one-time funding for Arizona universities.

Those are all spending priorities of legislative Republicans. In total, Ducey is asking the Legislature to give up on $48 million in new spending they’ve proposed in budget negotiations.

The governor’s office would also sweep $37 million in funds from other agencies, primarily the Department of Environmental Quality; collect $8 million in new Keno revenues;  increase the state’s hospital assessment, which pays for Medicaid expansion, by $35 million; and use $42 million in savings through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and Department of Education, among other measures.

The governor’s staff also projects far higher growth in state revenues than budgets that have been drafted by GOP legislative leaders.

For instance, while budget analysts anticipate $46 million in new, ongoing revenues in the coming fiscal year, Ducey’s budget plans for $156 million.

All told, the governor’s staff scoured the state’s budget for $426 million in available dollars thanks to spending sweeps, reductions and new revenues.

Those dollars would go to more than higher teacher salaries.

While the Legislature is asked to give up $34 million in spending, some of Ducey’s other priorities are also fully funded under his proposal.

That includes $16 million to pay for his school safety plan, which the Legislature has yet to vote on; $28 million to the School Facilities Board to cover building repairs; and $15 million for prison health care, among other proposals.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Gov. Doug Ducey is asking the Legislature to give up $34 million in new proposed spending. 


Ducey, legislative leaders arrive at teacher pay deal

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona House and Senate leaders have reached a deal with Gov. Doug Ducey on a plan to fund his proposal for a 20-percent pay hike for teachers, but they won’t disclose how they’ll pay for it.

After reiterating his vow to deliver on a pay raise even as teachers marched to the Capitol, Ducey issued a joint statement with House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough on Friday afternoon that the plan is now a “reality.”

“Today, we are pleased to announce that this plan is a reality. Arizona is delivering on its commitment to our students and teachers,” the leaders said.

But the announcement, which came on the heels of the “Red for Ed” movement announcing Arizona teachers will press on with their strike next week, didn’t include details. Leaders said they want to brief their members first. Leaders still have to persuade members to support the deal.

The development also followed the filing of a ballot initiative pushed by the state’s teachers’ union and education advocates that seeks to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans and earmark those new revenues for K-12 public schools.

Teachers were wary of Ducey’s proposal because it didn’t include a new revenue source, and it relied on rosy economic projections for funding. Other critics noted that the plan, as originally proposed, would sweep funding from other programs to pay for the salary hike. They also doubted whether Ducey can get it through the Legislature.

Ducey makes promises he can’t keep, said “Red for Ed” leaders Joe Thomas and Noah Karvelis. All they have seen is a news release and a tweet from the governor, and that doesn’t indicate a deal, they said in a news release.

“We have no bill. We have no deal,” they said.

The announcement signifies that legislative leaders have not only agreed to Ducey’s teacher pay raise plan, but have also come to a consensus on how to fund it, said Mesnard, R-Chandler.

But they still haven’t finalized a full budget – something Ducey said they will work through the weekend to complete.

When asked about details of the plan, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor’s office will likely have more to share after budget analysts and appropriations staffers work through the weekend to fine-tune the details.

“We feel this is a sustainable plan. You’ll see the total package is one that is fiscally responsible,” he said.

Mesnard would not share details of the deal until he can brief rank-and-file Republican legislators. But one breakthrough that helped GOP leaders reach an accord is a new levy on vehicles that Ducey signed into law earlier this week. Mesnard said he’s confident the budget will have the necessary votes to pass in his chamber.

Legislative Republicans are counting on the new fee to generate more than $160 million annually, which is higher than the previous estimate of $148.9 million.

That will free up dollars that, in the past, have paid for the state’s Highway Patrol operations and funding for road maintenance and construction. The director of the Department of Transportation will be responsible for setting a fee to generate the necessary budget amount Republican lawmakers are targeting.

Legislative analysts estimate that the new vehicle fee will free up $107 million in state revenues, which can then be spent on education.

Presumably, those dollars will be combined with higher-than-expected state revenues to fund the pay bump for teachers.

Legislative leaders plan to introduce a budget early next week. Scarpinato said the goal is to have a complete budget introduced on Monday.

“I’m excited to have a deal with the governor and the president,” Mesnard said. “Now we’re going to work on finalizing the details of the overall budget, and we’ll be doing that through the weekend.”

Yarbrough, R-Chandler, could not immediately be reached for comment. But he has long indicated that Senate Republicans fully support Ducey’s plan.

Ducey’s pay boost for teachers includes a 9-percent raise for teachers this fall — on top of 1 percent this year — and subsequent raises of 5-percent increments in the following two school years.

Reporters Ben Giles and Paulina Pineda contributed to this report.

Grassroots teachers’ push sidelines union in pay dispute

 Arizona Educators United spokesman Noah Karvelis stands beside dozens of teachers and public education advocates protesting on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gave his monthly KTAR interview. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Educators United spokesman Noah Karvelis stands beside dozens of teachers and public education advocates protesting on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gave his monthly KTAR interview. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona teachers are done, fed up, over it.

They are willing to take action for their demands – 20 percent raises, competitive pay, additional per pupil funding and no new tax cuts until it happens – and they don’t want to wait much longer.

At 40,000 strong, Arizona Educators United pushed aside the Arizona Education Association, the political group typically charged with imposing their will at the Legislature.

They’re showing the union and others how to organize.

Arizona Educators United and the Red for Ed movement invited public education employees and their supporters to vent their frustrations publicly on Facebook. Within 24 hours, thousands had joined the conversation and many asked the same question: Will Arizona be the next to strike?

At first, Tres Rios Elementary School music teacher Noah Karvelis only envisioned inspiring action in his own district – wearing red on a Wednesday in a show of solidarity. But the Facebook group he created did something no press conference or letter to the Legislature or impassioned call for change had managed to do before.

It harnessed the energy of teachers desperate for more, and its leaders have repeatedly warned that they will soon set a date to walk out of their classrooms and strike.

Their demands and the series of demonstrations at the Capitol with hundreds of teachers clad in red seemed to catch the attention of Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers, who offered plans to increase teacher salaries on April 12.

Karvelis (who doubles as campaign manager for Kathy Hoffman, a Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction) said the roughly 40,000 members of the movement sweeping social media remain driven by their demands and a lack of faith in anyone but themselves to see that they’re met.

The Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest union representing about 20,000 public school employees, has taken a backseat, a supportive role, offering infrastructure and advice while Arizona Educators United leads the way forward.

“There are no political parties pulling the strings. There are no candidates pulling the strings or unions behind the scenes pushing agendas,” Karvelis said. “It’s just educators advocating on behalf of other educators and families and their students.”

And that’s where they found the “magic.”

“Something has changed here,” Karvelis said. “Some sort of dynamic has brought people back in to reengage.”

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas at a press conference Wednesday. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas at a press conference Wednesday. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

AEA President Joe Thomas called it a reawakening of public education employees and advocates, who have realized that “if we’re going to fix this, we have to fix it ourselves.”

The movement is bigger than AEA, he said, and the union has stepped aside in recent weeks to give Arizona Educators United the space to lead the way.

“It helps the individual recognize that the story of your classroom is what’s going to move people to action,” Thomas said. “Your story is the authentic story of what all of those policies look like in action.”

When teachers understand that, he said, they’ll understand they can leverage change.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona elementary school teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers $46,470, the third and sixth lowest in the nation, respectively. Adjusted for the local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers actually rank 49th in earnings and high school teachers 48th.

Most of the comments left on the group’s Facebook page have laid blame on Ducey and the Legislature’s perceived apathy toward teachers’ complaints.

But others have pointed to AEA and what some see as a history of ineffective actions.

Russ Cannizzaro, whose Facebook profile page indicated he is the education department chair at Tempe Union High School District, wrote, “The reason why we (are) near last in the nation for teachers’ salaries is because we are near last when it comes to doing anything about it.”

And Kasey Kerber summed up some of her peers’ fear that the window of opportunity is quickly shrinking: “Can we strike already? I feel like we’re a bunch of hamsters on a wheel.”

Thomas recalled a recent encounter with a man who said the union should be ashamed. The man told him the governor and the Legislature had been allowed to cut education funding on AEA’s watch.

But Thomas rejected that.

“They did that on all of our watch,” he said. “It wasn’t just AEA’s watch. It was every teacher in the state. You can’t just say one group or one entity let that happen. We all let that happen.”

But Karvelis said AEA taking a backseat in this moment has been part of the dynamic that seems to be working.

AEA members and non-members make up Arizona Educators United’s ranks. Democrats and Republicans. District and charter school employees.

Karvelis said they don’t align with a specific candidate or a specific stance, and that’s fine. That’s what makes it work.

That’s what it has taken to gain the trust of people all across the state.

“They saw that educators and teachers were standing up,” Karvelis said. “They felt safe in that place, and that’s been powerful for us.”

Jennifer Samuels marches with dozens of her peers, students and other supporters of the Arizona Educators United movement on April 10. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Jennifer Samuels marches with dozens of her peers, students and other supporters of the Arizona Educators United movement on April 10. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Jennifer Samuels, an eighth grade English teacher at Desert Shadows Middle School, marched outside of the KTAR 92.3 studio on April 10 while Ducey gave his monthly interview. Her sixth grade daughter joined her in matching red shirts, carrying signs as temperatures hit 100 degrees – the first triple-digit day of the year.

Samuels has been teaching in Arizona for six years. She said she works with about 90 kids every day, and she’s fighting for them. It’s her obligation, she said.

She doesn’t want to strike, but she said she will because “the short-term plan of leaving our class for a little while is so much better than” the alternative of sitting idle.

She’s a member of AEA and said the union has done all it could with what they have.

But she said it took Arizona Educators United to give teachers the courage to rise up.

“Every day, the people involved in Red for Ed are escalating our action,” she said. “Every day we get stronger. Every week we get stronger. As Noah Karvelis says, our backs are against the walls.”

If they’re going to strike, they have an ever-shrinking window of time to do it while it can still make a difference. The budget is already being negotiated, and the Legislature is nearing the 100th day of session.

But Karvelis said all options are still on the table, including a walk-out.

“We have to win no matter what,” he said, adding that if it does not get done this year, they’ll start next school year by taking action.

For now, Arizona Educators United leaders are waiting to see what Ducey will do.

“If they don’t respond to the citizens, if they don’t respond to the educators, they’re making a terrible mistake,” he said. “We’ve organized 40,000 people who need answers. To ignore that is to ignore your duty as an elected representative, especially a governor.”

Ducey’s office did not return requests for comment.

House leaders offer teacher pay raise plan

Republican House leadership is backing a plan to give teachers a 6-percent pay bump next year at the expense of Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to restore cuts to K-12 school capital funding.

Buffeted by protesting teachers, who have threatened to strike if the Legislature doesn’t provide a sizable increase in funding for Arizona public schools to bankroll salary hikes, Republican lawmakers see the proposal as a means of changing the narrative that state legislators have failed to provide teachers a decent wage.

The plan boasts of a cumulative 24-percent pay raise for teachers over six years. To do so, the Legislature would renege on a pledge made by Ducey to restore cuts made to public school monies used for capital expenses, like new school buses, textbooks and facility maintenance.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)

Legislators would bypass the decision makers in school districts to ensure that all available dollars go to teacher pay, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said on KAET-TV’s Arizona Horizon Wednesday evening.

“That was one of the reasons we put out a proposal yesterday that essentially did just that,” Mesnard said. “It took money where it was going to go in a pot where they could pretty much do what they want with it… and instead put hundreds of millions of dollars into something called the classroom site fund, which is dedicated to teacher pay.”

Mesnard said the proposal addresses the gripes of protesting teachers, who have asked for an immediate 20-percent raise.

“We don’t set teacher pay. That’s a district decision. We’re in the resource business,” he said.

The proposal from GOP leaders misses the point protesters are trying to make, said Dana Naimark, president of Arizona Children’s Action Alliance. There isn’t enough funding available to address all the needs schools have, be it salaries, broken air conditioning systems or old textbooks.

“To try to dangle that in front of teachers saying we’re promising you a 24 percent pay raise I think is pretty disingenuous,” she said. “They’re just moving the shells around the table. The point is, we need more revenues to invest in schools.”

Flanked by local school officials, Ducey in January announced the budget proposal to immediately put $100 million for the coming school year back towards “district additional assistance,” and to continue to increase those funds over the next five years.

The offer came as a coalition of school groups and educators have sued the state for failing to meet constitutional obligations for capital needs. Ducey’s plan convinced some to back away from the lawsuit.

The proposal from GOP leaders takes that $100 million away in the upcoming school year and places it in a fund designated almost exclusively for teacher salaries.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said the plan is popular among some legislative Republicans.

“There’s a narrative right now that the legislature dictates teacher salaries and how much money goes to teacher salaries. And you’re hearing people say that it is the legislature that does that. That is not the case,” he said.

But if that’s what people want to believe, Petersen said, “then maybe it is time for the legislature to do what people think is already the case and dictate salaries.”

Over the next five years, state budget analysts project the proposal would divert nearly $400 million from capital funds, as proposed by Ducey, to the classroom site fund, which primarily is used for teacher pay raises and merit pay increases.

That would kick start in 2018 with a $107 million appropriation to the fund, including the $100 million in capital funding Ducey proposed and another $7 million for schools that don’t receive state aid.

The GOP-led plan also accounts for the second year of a 2 percent pay raise, a two-year plan approved by the Legislature in 2017, and basic inflationary increases to K-12 funding — dollars that are controlled by law through funding formulas. But the plan assumes that, going forward, 48 percent of those inflationary budget increases would be used for teacher salaries.

Their proposal also accounts for a recent change to Proposition 301, the six-tenths of a cent sales tax extension approved by the Legislature weeks ago. That change would add another $64 million to the teacher pay, but not until 2021.

All told, budget analysts estimate the plan would boost teacher pay by $829.2 million by 2022, a 24 percent cumulative increase.

The proposal would still leave K-12 school districts with a $400 million budget hole for capital expenses in five years, said Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

And it could threaten the governor’s efforts to settle a capital funding lawsuit.

“(Ducey) met with school districts, had a big press conference where all these superintendents from school districts stood behind him, and he said, ‘I’m restoring those cuts,’” Essigs said. “Obviously this is a slap in the face to him, because they’re taking what he had developed as a plan and got consensus and got agreement for and just throwing it out the window.”

Missing details of Ducey pay plan leave teachers skeptical

Public education advocates rally at the Arizona Capitol on March, 28, 2018, to demand higher teacher pay, among other improvements to public school funding. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Public education advocates rally at the Arizona Capitol on March, 28, 2018, to demand higher teacher pay, among other improvements to public school funding. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lack of details of where the money is coming from and what the governor’s plan does not include has Arizona educators panning his offer of a big hike in teacher pay.

But groups that represent school boards and business personnel are lining up behind it, even while waiting to see specifics, calling it a good first step.

Gov. Doug Ducey Thursday said he can find funds to add 8 percent to teacher salaries this coming school year, on top of the 1 percent he already offered. And Ducey said he believes there will be money in the budget for a pair of back-to-back 5 percent pay hikes in the two subsequent years.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato cited forecasts by economists released just this past week which predict that revenues for this year will be $262 million higher than anticipated, with an additional $300 million from all sources for the coming budget year.

With other expenses, that by itself will not be enough to fund the $274 million first-year cost, much less the more than $670 million price tag when fully implemented. But Scarpinato said an improving economy also means fewer people in the state’s Medicaid program and needing other state services.

He also said Ducey is willing to forego some of the things he asked for in January, though he would not provide specifics. Scarpinato acknowledged one “ask” likely being thrown overboard is a tax cut for military retirees, though that saves the state just $15 million.

That lack of financing details, however, addresses only part of the reason that members of Arizona Educators United are not ready to give up their protests, their walk-ins — and even the possibility of a strike.

Noah Karvelis, one of the organizers of Arizona Educators United, said Ducey’s proposal deals with only one of the group’s five demands. And it doesn’t even fully address that one, providing 19 percent over three years versus 20 percent immediately.

The potential political problem now is that it has been strong public support that has gotten the educators this far, with the governor acceding to demands for a pay hike that only a week ago he had dismissed as “political theater.” Karvelis said some people could see the governor’s offer and believe the problem has been solved.

“We all realize that,” he said. “But I think we’re going to be able put out a higher level of engagement and really educate people on what some of the flaws are in the plan and what pieces it lacks.”

Derek Harris, another organizer of the newly formed and loosely knit group of teachers and support staff, said that will be crucial.

“Whenever you get a chance to educate someone on the real ins and outs of an issue and show them the facts and point them in the direction of what really is going on somewhere, they usually have a more detailed appreciation for where people stand,” he said.

Demands not addressed in Ducey’s offer are a system of permanent future salary increases, restoring education funding to 2008 levels, and a promise of no new tax cuts until per-student funding in Arizona reaches the national average.

And then there’s the question of who would — and would not — get a raise.

There is no new money in the governor’s plan for support staff. And that slight is not sitting well for members of Arizona Educators United in that group.

Vanessa Jimenez, vice president of the Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association, said her “heart sank” when she listened to the governor’s plan.

“Everybody knows it takes a village to raise our students,” she said. “And that village includes teachers and classified staff.”

Jimenez called the governor’s plan “clearly an attempt to divide us.”

Scarpinato, however, said there actually is money in the governor’s plan for classified staff — sort of.

He said the governor is committed to eventually restore the $371 million a year schools are supposed to get in what’s called “district additional assistance,” money that even Ducey himself had taken from the fund in prior years to balance the rest of the state budget.

This money is primarily earmarked for things like books, computers and buses. But school boards have flexibility to use it for whatever priorities they have.

Ducey also has vowed to boost basic state aid each year for inflation, something that lawmakers failed to do for years.

In any other school year, Scarpinato said school boards would use those funds to boost teacher pay. But now, with new dollars earmarked specifically for pay hikes, local officials have those dollars for other priorities, like pay for classified staff.

Harris said that’s hardly reassuring, noting the governor’s plan leaves the question of what raises to give to support staff — if any — is left to the whims of local school boards.

“One person can say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re going to free up all of this money for custodians and cafeteria workers and all that,’ ” he said. “It’s another thing to actually do it.”

Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said his members realize that boosting teacher pay, by itself, does not solve all problems.

“The classified folks are underpaid also,” he said. But Ogle said there’s nothing wrong with leaving the question of their remuneration to individual school boards.

“The reason we have locally elected boards with fiduciary responsibility is that they make value judgments in their communities,” he said. He said the governor’s plan, in providing more dollars for teacher pay, gives local officials more flexibility to decide how to divide up the other dollars that will be coming in, including for support staff.

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Association of School Business Officials agrees that having the state pick up the burden for teacher pay hikes frees up other dollars for other priorities.

“They can go to the ‘district additional assistance’ and the regular inflation funding to meet some of the other needs in the district because the teachers would have gotten probably the biggest raise any of them have gotten in their career,” he said.

Essigs acknowledged the plan does not give Arizona Educators United everything it wants, like restoring funding to 2008 levels. Estimates are that, on an inflation-adjusted basis, schools are getting $1 billion a year less now than a decade ago.

But he does not see it as a reason to reject it.

“It’s a great start,” Essigs said, saying the additional dollars will give schools about $300 extra per student.

“That’s pretty significant,” Essigs said, though it still leaves schools far short of the national average. The most recent numbers from the National Education Association put total spending at $7,566 in Arizona compared to $11,787 nationally.

What it will also do is finally bring the amount of money the state provides on a per-student basis back above where it was in 2009, even before inflation is considered.

“That’s a pretty nice bump,” Essigs said.

Pay raise gives political boost to teachers, Ducey

Striking teachers silently cheer using their hands to follow decorum on not clapping or verbally reacting from the Senate gallery while senators meet in Senate chambers on April 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
Striking teachers silently cheer using their hands to follow decorum on not clapping or verbally reacting from the Senate gallery while senators meet in Senate chambers on April 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

Long past his normal bedtime May 2, Zach Stenerson sat in a camping chair in front of the state Capitol, watching one of the last “Red for Ed” rallies unfold.

About a week after he first went on strike, the 36-year-old history and economics teacher spent more than four hours watching the Arizona Senate finalize budget details, including pay raises for teachers.

He was one of hundreds of red-clad protesters to pack the Senate and House of Representatives galleries — seats normally taken up by lobbyists and other Capitol insiders — as lawmakers spent hours debating the state budget bills.

“One of the reasons I really wanted to be here is because I know it’s not over,” he said. “When I was up in the gallery and listening to all the people in the lobby cheering and stuff like that, it really exposed Arizona government.”

Gov. Doug Ducey is the leader “Red for Ed” supporters love to hate.

Likewise, there’s no love lost between Ducey and those he dismissed as staging “political theater.”

But putting aside the adversarial relationship between the Governor’s Office and leaders of the teacher pay movement, both Ducey and Arizona teachers have benefitted from the “Red for Ed” momentum that swept through Arizona this legislative session.

After suffering more than a month of intense public scrutiny as teachers demanded raises and lashed out against the administration, Ducey listened and delivered on one of their requests.

Protesters will eventually abandon Capitol grounds, but Ducey’s victory — providing a 20-percent pay bump for teachers over several years — will carry on and give the governor a major talking point in his re-election bid.

Meanwhile, Arizona teachers, having mobilized en masse in a way the state has never seen before, will see the largest pay increase they’ve received in years when they go back to school in the fall. They could also keep the political momentum going into an election year when Republicans across the country look increasingly vulnerable because of widespread dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump.

Ducey’s initial reluctance to grant teacher pay raises above the 1-percent he already promised in his proposed budget fired up “Red for Ed” supporters. In return, the ever-vocal movement pushed Ducey to re-evaluate what he could offer teachers.

Call it symbiosis.

The end of the teachers’ strike won’t be the end of the “Red for Ed” movement, its leaders insisted this week.

As for next steps, organizers don’t have any plans yet. Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis tentatively suggested teachers would hold post-strike “walk-ins” at their schools to thank parents and students for their understanding and support.

After that, it’s an election year, but organizers have no concrete plans to keep up the momentum through November.

“I guarantee there are a lot of people walking around down here in red every single day, looking at themselves in the mirror saying, ‘If they can’t get it done, I’ll get it done. One way or another,’” Karvelis said.

While protesting at the Capitol, striking teachers have issued thinly veiled threats to lawmakers, reminding them of the upcoming elections this fall. In the Senate gallery just before midnight May 2, one woman held up a small sign that read
“11-6-18” — the date of the November general election.

“Please know that in November, the ballot box does listen,” one Phoenix teacher taunted members of the Senate Appropriations Committee before they voted on the K-12 budget bill. The teacher pleaded with members to oppose the budget, but acknowledged his request was unlikely to be fulfilled in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The Legislature approved the K-12 budget bill mostly along party lines. Several Senate Democrats, who had been largely critical of Ducey’s plan, also voted in favor of the bill.

It’s exciting to see other teachers learn about the legislative process and become inspired to become politically active as they watched the budget shake out, said Paloma Perry, a Goodyear history teacher.

The “Red for Ed” movement is a sign things are about to drastically change within Arizona, said the third-year teacher.

“It’s really fired a lot of people up,” she said. “If 75,000 of us are willing to leave school for a week, what’s stopping us from letting people know how we feel at the ballot box this November?”

But Arizona teachers may have just handed Ducey the opportunity he needed to cement his re-election bid. From now until November, Ducey can brag that he gave teachers 20-percent pay raises without raising taxes.

Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence touted Ducey’s teacher pay plan at an event to discuss Trump’s policies, including the new federal tax law. Ducey introduced Pence, a longtime friend, at the “America First Policies” event in Tempe that at times felt like a campaign rally.

“Governor Ducey promised to invest in your schools and support your teachers,” he told an excited crowd. “Just a few weeks ago, I just heard that Governor Ducey released a plan to increase teachers’ salaries by 20 percent by 2020 because Governor Doug Ducey believes that Arizona’s teachers deserve a raise.”

Ducey signed the K-12 budget bill, including teacher pay raises, into law in the early hours May 3, before lawmakers had completed work on all of the budget bills.

“This is a real win for our teachers, for our kids, for our educators in the classroom.” Ducey said in a video of the bill signing. “It’s a good way to start the day.”

By 6:15 a.m., the Governor’s Office had sent out a news release touting Ducey’s accomplishment. Within an hour, the Republican Governors Association, which paid for weeks of TV ads praising Ducey’s teacher pay plan, sent out a release saying the governor had “delivered for the people of Arizona today.”

Some of Ducey’s other legislative priorities — like his school safety bill that initially included funding for more school resource officers — took a backseat to the governor’s teacher pay push.

In addition to the pay raises, Ducey will be able to tout on the campaign trail that he extended the 0.6 sales tax in Proposition 301 this year. While Ducey expressed support for extending the levy last year, he didn’t push to re-up this legislative session.

That is until amid the “Red for Ed” ramp up, a bipartisan coalition of legislators worked together to pass the extension — which some have argued is a tax increase and goes against the pledge Ducey took not to increase taxes.

Teachers forced Ducey’s hand this session, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. Farley is one of several Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Ducey in the gubernatorial race.

Teachers showed their strength and made their voices heard with “walk-ins” across the state several weeks ago, Farley said. It’s likely no coincidence, Ducey called a press conference the next day to announce his teacher pay plan, he said.

“The ‘Red for Ed’ movement has changed the game entirely,” said Farley, speaking to its supporters earlier this week.

“You have changed the world already, and this budget is an example of how far you’ve pushed things.”

School unfairly attacked provides quality education at less cost


Recent attacks and inaccurate statements about the integrity and success of Primavera Online and its students demand a proper response. On behalf of the more than 200,000 students we have served over the past 18 years, the truth about us deserves to be told.

Damian Creamer
Damian Creamer
  • The Arizona Republic reports our dropout rate at 49 percent. This is inaccurate, and we are working with the Arizona Department of Education to correct errors made when all schools transitioned to the state’s new data system in 2015-2016. Once finalized, we expect our dropout rates to resume being much lower than that of our alternative school peers.
  • The Republic has reported multiple student-to-teacher ratios ranging from 215 to 1, most recently 68 to 1. Both numbers are ludicrous and evidence of The Republic’s baseless reporting. Our average class size last year was 33 students per teacher.
  • The Republic states we raised teacher salaries by 1 percent. Again, inaccurate. Teachers’ base salaries were increased an average of 15 percent over the last two years, while significant cost increases to health care benefits have been covered by Primavera – not passed on to our teachers.
  • The Republic reports that we – like half of all schools throughout the state – perform below state average on AzMERIT. What they don’t report is that our scores exceed those of other alternative schools. More than 70 percent of Primavera students are considered at-risk of not graduating, yet our passing scores are higher than our peers by 13 percent in math and 20 percent in English. For the past three years, Primavera’s AzMERIT improvement has outpaced the state’s average by increasing 7 percent in ELA and 10 percent in mathematics.

The Republic has failed to publish these facts, which we have submitted to them on several occasions, possibly because they don’t fit into their narrative against charter schools.

What they do not acknowledge is the immense value Primavera provides to the people of Arizona.

Primavera educated 22,000 students last school year. The vast majority of these students chose Primavera to recover graduation credits over the other 150 alternative schools throughout the state. In fact, one in 10 of all Arizona high school seniors chose to enroll in a Primavera course last year.

For taxpayers worried about overpaying for education services, that isn’t happening. Safeguards to protect Arizonans from paying more than once for a child’s education already exist in statute. The state splits funding proportionally between all schools that educate each child.

Primavera also has a large full-time student body – 20 percent of whom are adults between 18 and 21. We graduated nearly 1,000 of these students last year alone. Most of our graduates were at least one year behind after attending other high schools. These matter because according to the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable 2018 report, these graduates alone prevented an approximate $415 million in total estimated lifetime loss for Arizona.

Primavera also saved families approximately $1.2 million last summer alone by enrolling over 6,700 students who would have otherwise paid $180 per class to traditional district summer school programs. Primavera’s unique ability to help any student recover credits so that they can graduate with their classmates at their home school (or ours), doesn’t cost the state one penny more. In fact, it saves everyone money. And, unlike other schools, Arizona’s online schools are required to educate every student 20 percent more time for less state funding per pupil than brick and mortar schools.

To provide a rigorous and effective program, we created the technology and digital curriculum that powers Primavera’s online platform. This is an ongoing endeavor to innovate how students learn and teachers teach in the modern era. Our curriculum and technology have won over 60 prestigious regional and national awards. Primavera’s unique innovations include tools that allow teachers to track student progress and foster engagement. Primavera is nationally regarded as a pioneer in online education, and as an Arizona charter school, we continually re-invest our resources to give students the top-notch education they deserve.

Since 1994, the private sector has successfully played a critical role in improving the quality of public education by providing school choice. Primavera is an essential piece of that success. Our 18 years of experience has taught us what works and more importantly, what doesn’t. We invest heavily in our faculty, staff, curriculum, and technology. Unlike a brick and mortar school built for a fixed cost, enterprise-level education platforms continually evolve to meet the changing needs of the modern student.

We’re 500 employees strong – dedicated professionals providing even the most disadvantaged students with the highest quality education and proud of the work and service we provide. It’s unfortunate that The Republic has chosen a one-sided attack that impugned the positive impact Primavera has in Arizona.

Damian Creamer is founder of Primavera Online Schools and StrongMind. Editor’s Note: Managing Editor Gary Grado has a relative who is an employee of Primavera.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

The Breakdown, Episode 14: Enough is enough?


Members of Arizona Educators United protest on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gives his weekly KTAR interview. Dozens of teachers, students and other public education advocates marched outside as the temperature in Phoenix reached 100 degree for the first time this year. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Members of Arizona Educators United protest on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gives his weekly KTAR interview. Dozens of teachers, students and other public education advocates marched outside as the temperature in Phoenix reached 100 degree for the first time this year. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey offered teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020, but will that be enough to satisfy their demands?

Leaders of Arizona Educators United took to Facebook to respond to the governor’s plan, pointing out Ducey had left out support staff and overall funding for public education.

Members of the grassroots movement who have been debating a potential strike are also raising questions of where the proposed funding will come from and how Ducey can ensure the plan remains in place in the years to come.

And all the while, the governor’s proposal is not yet a guarantee. The Legislator still has to approve it.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

Music in this episode included “Little Idea,” “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown, Episode 15: The teachers have spoken


Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Public school employees voted last week, and they’ve decided to strike – but leadership behind the Red for Ed movement pumped the breaks.

They’ll walk out, Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis said, but not until Thursday, leaving Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers time to take action if they so choose.

But whether the elected officials at the Capitol will hear teachers’ call is yet to be seen. Ducey’s plan already threw budget talks into disarray, and they’d have to do some serious digging through the state coffers to find the money to fund AEU’s other demands.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

Music in this episode included “Little Idea,” “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.