Raise for Arizona Teachers

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey outlined steps to improve education

Via azcentral.com

If a large portion of the Legislature gets its way, Arizona teachers will see a bigger raise than what Gov. Doug Ducey has offered.

Lawmakers and the governor are still in closed-door budget negotiations, but Republicans and Democrats say teachers need more — and they think a majority of lawmakers will fight to give it to them.

“I’d love to give teachers a raise,” said House Appropriations Chairman Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who is overseeing the House’s budget process. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if we could give them a little more than what the governor wants. There is strong support.”

The governor’s budget proposal in January included a 2 percent salary increase for all Arizona teachers, rolled out incrementally over five years.

That would mean a 0.4 percent raise and an extra $172 next year for teachers earning an average salary of $43,000, according to the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

Legislative leaders won’t reveal specifics at this point and are still negotiating an exact number, but several of them — including Republicans — said they’d like to see teachers get at least double what Ducey is offering. A 1 percent raise would give the average teacher an additional $430 a year.

Another proposal from Democrats and education groups to boost the raise to 4 percent would give the average teacher an extra $1,720 — but that proposal includes freezing corporate tax cuts to help cover the cost and is likely a non-starter in the Republican-led Legislature.

The legislative budget proposal will need more than just a majority of Arizona’s 90 lawmakers, however. It also needs Ducey’s sign-off.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato declined to comment on details of budget talks, saying they don’t negotiate the budget through the media.

“However, we’ve said from day one, we are open to good ideas and want to work with the Legislature on a final budget package that prioritizes K-12 education and teachers,” Scarpinato said.

Looking for double

Ducey proposed an additional $113.6 million for K-12 education next year. He proposed spreading the money among more than a dozen proposals, including teacher salaries, full-day kindergarten, additional funding for high-performing schools and teacher student-loan forgiveness programs.

Peoria Republican Rep. David Livingston, the House Appropriations Committee vice chairman, said he’d like to see more money for teacher raises rather than dividing it among several proposals.

He declined to say what specific amount is under consideration in the early closed-door meetings with legislative leaders. But he said there was discussion of allocating $25 million or more to teacher salaries.

“I think we are better off focusing on raises for teachers,” he said. “And I think we have a lot of support in that $20-$30 million range.”

Boosting the proposed raise to 1 percent next year would cost about $31 million, according to the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, which consists of school district financial administrators statewide.

Livingston said it was too early to know whether the effort to give teachers more would succeed.

“I think the governor is supportive of raising teacher salaries,” he said, adding that he was unsure if Ducey would support pulling funds from his other proposals to boost the amount for teachers. “Are the other things he put in K-12 more important?”

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the financial administrators’ association, said there’s broad support for higher teacher salaries from both the business and the education advocacy communities, and he believes they are succeeding in persuading the Legislature to move in that direction.

He said that while the various programs Ducey proposed funding are important, putting money toward all of them this year is not the way to go.

“With limited resources, you are better off concentrating on one or two items rather than just trying to do a little bit of everything,” Essigs said. “We hope there can be some consensus in that.”

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who serves on the Coolidge Unified School District Governing Board, said he supports more for teachers.

“They do deserve more than what the governor wanted, but we have to still work within the confines of our (revenue) box,” Shope said.

He said the idea of taking all the money from the education programs Ducey proposed and funneling it to teacher salaries “has been discussed.”

“But nothing’s been agreed to,” he said.

Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, who taught at Apache Junction High School, said he supported Ducey’s proposal and its effort to address not just teacher compensation but also other challenges like training.

But he said he’d like to see more money for teacher salaries and suggested teachers get the $38 million Ducey proposed for high-performing schools, and those schools get the lesser $13.8 million proposed for salaries.

Democrats seek even more

Democratic House and Senate members, as well as a number of education advocacy groups, are pushing for a 4 percent raise for teachers, using available revenue and freezing some corporate sales tax cuts.The teacher advocacy group the Arizona Education Association estimates that would cost an additional $134 million a year.

It would require all the available revenue next year, plus more. Supporters say additional funds could be raised in a variety of ways, including freezing some corporate tax cuts and rehiring laid-off state tax auditors to restore revenue from tax enforcement.

“We have the money to fund that, and we should do it,” said Sen. Steve Farley, R-Tucson.

Senate is less specific

In the Senate, budget negotiations at this point are still limited to a handful of Republican leaders. They declined to comment on specifics regarding their members’ priorities, but said generally they support funding for teacher salaries.

“I personally think it’s a good idea, if we can afford it in the budget, to give more money for teacher raises,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who is overseeing Senate budget negotiations.

She would not say at this point exactly what amount the Senate may be comfortable with, or how it compares with the desires of the House or Ducey.

“But I think in general, the governor, the House and the Senate are all aligned,” she said.

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