Arizona House Outlines Plan To Boost Teacher Pay Amid Protests

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Teachers rally at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 2, 2018. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol as Oklahoma becomes the latest state to be plagued by teacher strife. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona teachers who are threatening a walkout unless they see a 20 percent pay raise and increases in overall school funding could get large pay boosts under a proposal that emerged Thursday in the Arizona House.

Separately, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office scheduled a press briefing to outline a new initiative from the Republican governor to boost pay.

The developments come after more than a month of protests at the state Capitol and at schools across Arizona that were fueled by teacher discontent in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard outlined a plan Thursday to boost teacher pay by 6 percent in the coming school year with annual increases that could lead to a 23 percent increase at the end of five years. However, the proposal does it by redirecting cash already committed or planned for school districts in coming years, so school districts would feel the squeeze.

“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. “It’s hundreds of millions of dollars. By 2023 I think you’re at $800 million a year.”

The money comes by redirecting $400 million in cuts Ducey promised to restore to school districts over four years, requiring schools to use annual mandatory inflation boosts to give teachers pay raises and using money freed up once school construction bonds are repaid in 2021. That money was already committed to teacher pay.

A top school business official said Mesnard’s plan would harm schools more than it would help teachers.

“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.

That’s because taking an existing funding stream would further erode the ability to replace textbooks, school buses, computers to make repairs to facilities.

The developments come after a group formed in March called Arizona Educators United has signed up more than 40,000 teachers and educators and threatened a walkout. In addition to a 20 percent pay bump, they’re seeking increased pay for support professionals, a permanent raise structure, and a freeze on corporate tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona elementary teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers $46,470, the 3rd and 6th lowest in the nation, respectively. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers actually rank 49th in earnings and high school teachers 48th.

Teachers and others held “walk-ins” at more than 1,000 schools Wednesday to draw attention to their demands and the grassroots group says a strike date could be set soon.

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