Arizona House Moves To Hike Teacher Pay Amid Protests

Gov. Ducey proposing 9 percent pay raise this year 20 percent by 2020

The entire state is becoming impoverished because teachers are fleeing to other states to earn a decent living, leaving less qualified people behind to teach our children, said Tracy Alexander, a Walden Grove High School English teacher.

Lawmakers did give teachers a 1 percent salary increase this year, and Gov. Doug Ducey has promised another 1 percent for the coming school year.

The moves comes amid a wave of teachers strikes over pay and education budgets in states including West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

"Today is a good day for teachers in Arizona", Ducey said to open a press briefing.

Earlier this week, the grassroots organization Arizona Educators United told their Facebook members to prepare for a possible walkout that would close schools. "We need to make a deal here, we need to get our 20 percent". Ducey's proposal didn't include more spending on those items.

Ducey's plan would give teachers a 9 percent increase this year, with another 11 percent to come by 2020.

"The Legislature's plan is awful, " said Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Association of Arizona School Business Officials. "And I hope everyone had a good spring break, because it's going to be a long weekend, and we're going to be working through the weekend".

"Any proposal that wants to increase teacher salaries by 20 percent but does not want to put any more money into the school funding is leading Arizona schools and charter schools down a road to disaster", said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

Ducey's plan comes after educators protested for weeks and threatened a walkout in pursuit of 20 percent raises next year and restoration of about $1 billion in overall school funding that was cut during the recession.

He said he wants to see actual legislation and how the governor will pay for it.

Elementary teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers earned $46,470, ranking 3rd and 6th lowest in the nation, respectively, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average salaries a year ago were actually $8,000-$9,000 less than 1990 salaries, when adjusted for inflation.

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Ducey, who had refused to even meet with teachers as recently as Tuesday, calling their actions a "political circus", said Thursday he was "impressed" after listening to teachers and found $274 million to cover the cost of the initial raise without raising taxes, though he did not provide any details.

The average American teacher made $58,950 during the 2016-17 school year, a 1.6 percent decrease from a decade and a half previous, when they made $59,944 when adjusted for inflation.

The proposal rolled out by the Republican governor Thursday doesn't increase funding for other school needs.

"We can do this and do it in a responsible, sustainable way", Ducey said. "The point is, we need more revenues to invest in schools".

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard provided an alternative plan that would redistribute money from school buildings and upkeep and direct it to teacher salaries, resulting in a 6 percent raise next year.

The raised voices in support of school funding come at a particularly relevant time for the Sedona-Oak Creek School District, which is facing $1.5 million in budget cuts for the next school year and is discussing closing one of its elementary schools.

"We put out there a way to make sure that money that we have that we want to allocate in the coming years specifically goes to teachers", Mesnard said.

Arizona PTA president Beth Simek, who supported the statewide activist movement and was involved with the discussions for the governor's proposal, called it "a huge step forward".

Lake Havasu Unified School District Superintendent Diana Asseier said she needed to thoroughly analyze the proposals before she could say how it will affect the district.

"The governor saw that this was a huge priority", she said.

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