Gov. Ducey: More money into Arizona’s public education

Call for more pay to teachers well received locally

Coyote Springs Elementary School second-grade teacher Yvonne Berry hands out project materials during class Monday in Prescott Valley. Gov. Doug Ducey is expected on Friday to include raises for teachers in his budget.

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Coyote Springs Elementary School second-grade teacher Yvonne Berry hands out project materials during class Monday in Prescott Valley. Gov. Doug Ducey is expected on Friday to include raises for teachers in his budget.

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Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, center, shakes hands with Rep. Heather Carter, left, R-Cave Creek, as he arrives on the House of Representatives floor to give his State of the State Address, opening the Arizona state legislature Monday, Jan. 9, in Phoenix.

Gov. Ducey’s emphasis on higher teacher pay draws positive reaction

PRESCOTT — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey spent about half of this week’s State of the State address emphasizing the need to improve education in the state – a theme that resonated equally with state legislators and a local elementary school teacher.

“I like that he feels that teachers make a difference, and that it is about time to return the favor,” Yvonne Berry, a second-grade teacher at Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley, said Monday evening. “That was nice to see.”

She was referring to Ducey’s State of the State comment, “I want teachers in the state to know: You make the difference. I value your work, and it’s time we return the favor.”

After listening to past State of the State addresses, Berry says this year’s speech took a refreshing new turn toward education. “I’m glad he’s putting teachers in the forefront,” she said.

Indeed, local reactions appeared unanimously positive after Ducey’s 2017 State of the State address.

State Sen. Karen Fann said Ducey’s speech touched on her own priorities for the coming session: Education, and business deregulation. “He hit on my top two points,” she said Monday evening.

Noting that as much as half of the speech dealt with education, Fann said she was especially happy to hear the governor mention his support for all-day kindergarten.

“I’m running a bill for all-day kindergarten – ‘kindergarten as a grade,’ I call it,” Fann said. “I was absolutely thrilled about (Ducey’s support for the concept).”

The governor’s education theme appeared to have bipartisan support among legislators, Fann added. Still, she said she did hear a consistent question afterward: “How are we going to pay for it?”

New State Rep. David Stringer, a Prescott Republican who was sworn in earlier Monday, said he believes Ducey will provide the details in his proposed budget on Friday. “I think that will come later,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, “I didn’t hear anything I couldn’t support.”

A strong advocate for school choice, Stringer said he was happy to hear Ducey say that Arizona would continue to be a school-choice leader in the nation.

And of Ducey’s support for higher teacher pay, Stringer agreed with the need, noting that the governor also said, “There would be no tax increases.”

Along with education, Fann also voiced support for another of the governor’s points – the need to reduce regulation on businesses.

A new website (RedTape.AZ.Gov) seeks feedback from businesses on feedback on a “regulation rollback.”

While Stringer said Ducey was “in exceptionally good form, with a well-crafted speech,” he also pointed to two notable omissions: Transportation infrastructure, and the strapped public-safety pension system (PSPRS).

“I realize you can’t talk about everything in an hour,” Stringer said, adding that he had hoped the governor would touch more on the need for improvements on Interstate 17, as well as the PSPRS.

State Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, was unavailable for comment before press time.

- By Cindy Barks, The Daily Courier

PHOENIX — Saying he takes his promise seriously, Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday said he wants to put more money into public education.

But Arizonans will have to wait until Friday when the governor releases his budget proposal to find out what that actually means in dollars and cents.

In his nearly hour-long State of the State address, the governor acknowledged that in pushing voters to approve Proposition 123 last May he vowed that the $3.5 billion 10-year program would be just the “first step” in improving education funding. On Monday, Ducey said he was ready to make “a commitment our educators can take to the bank.”

That includes promises of increased state aid and higher teacher pay. And he had special programs designed to get teachers into schools in areas of high poverty.

But the biggest surprise was Ducey partly reversing course on a decision he and state lawmakers made two years ago to make Arizona the stringiest state for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. That program provides cash benefits for families with children.

For a family of three, the monthly benefit is $278.

At the time Arizona was among those at the bottom of the list at 24 months. Lawmakers approved — and Ducey signed — a measure to slash that in half, putting Arizona at the bottom of benefits.

At that time there was a sentiment among some Republicans that the change would encourage people to work.

“As a society, we are encouraging people at times to make poor decisions and then we reward them,” then-Sen. Kelli Ward said at the time.

Today, however, Ducey had a different take on the issue.

He acknowledged it can be tricky to provide a safety net while not providing incentives for people to be out of work. But the governor said he recognizes that not everyone collecting benefits is anxious to remain there.

“No one wants to be on government assistance,” he said. “So why don’t we reward those who are making an honest effort to get off unemployment, or food stamps or welfare, those who are looking for work, making sure the kids do the homework, and trying to stop the cycle of poverty.”

The specific plan would reinstate 24 months of benefits for Arizonans who are actively looking for a job or who have kids who are attending schools and have an attendance record of at least 90 percent.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Ducey told Capitol Media Services when asked after his speech about the revised philosophy.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said he believes about 70 percent of those receiving TANF benefits will qualify. He also said that Ducey has more flexibility now with state funds than he did two years ago when Arizona was facing a $1.5 billion deficit.

Ducey provided no hard figures on the price tag. And that worried House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

“I’m comfortable with 12 months,” he said. “We can always revisit what we think makes the most sense.”

And the new speaker said that the plan may be a hard sell among the Republicans.

“I think we should remember that welfare was meant to be as short amount of time as possible,” Mesnard said. “We don’t want people to become dependent.”

But the broadest proposals the governor outlined Monday were on public education, with Ducey saying he’s finally ready with what he dubbed “Steps 4, 5 and 6” on top of Proposition 123.

The first, he said, is more resources for schools, above what is required by a voter-mandated inflation formula.

“Now, I’m not promising a money tree,” the governor told state lawmakers and others in the audience.

“There’s no pot of gold or cash hiding under a seat cushion,” he explained. “And unlike Washington, we don’t print money.”

More to the point, Ducey said he has no intent of raising taxes.

Step 5, he said, is a “a permanent, lasting salary increase to all of Arizona’s teachers,’

“No one goes into teaching to get rich,” he said. “But everyone deserves to be rewarded for their hard work.” And Step 6, he said, is a plan to relieve those who go into teaching of their student debt.

But there’s more. Ducey also promised to put money into his budget for full-day kindergarten.

It was Gov. Janet Napolitano who more than a decade ago pushed through state funding for all of the more than 200 school districts. But lawmakers dropped the $240 million annual financing during the recession.

About half of schools have kept the programs, paying for them either with local funds or tuition. Ducey is moving to make that available again at state expense -- but only for “the lowest-income schools.”

He said focusing the limited dollars there “addresses an issue we know is critical to closing the achievement gap: The ability to read by third grade.”

Overall teacher pay aside, Ducey cited the need for high-quality teachers in schools in low-income areas.

“It also happens to be the hardest place to attract them,” the governor said. Ducey said he wants a $1,000 signing bonus “to attract the best and brightest, and continue to close the achievement gap.”

The governor said he also wants changes to the process of certifying teachers, saying it is broken.

He cited the example of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first women majority leader of the state Senate and the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“She’s taught and lectured in law schools,” Ducey said. “But after her retirement in 2005, if she had wanted to teach civics in an Arizona high school classroom, she would have been deemed unqualified by the system,” he said.

The governor proposes scrapping a statewide standard for who can teach.

“Let’s get with the times and place trust in our school boards, superintendents and principals by letting them make the hiring decisions, and remove other obstacles,” he said.

Other proposals from Ducey include:

  • allowing state employees to bring their newborns to work for the first six months, saying it will lead to “increased productivity, quality employees less likely to leave state service and, most important, happy babies.”

  • subsidizing grandparents who take in children who otherwise would wind up in the foster care system;

  • setting up a web site for business owners to suggest “red tape” regulations that can be eliminated;

  • support for legislation to allow people who see kids left alone in cars to break in without fear of lawsuit;

  • providing on a voluntary basis a free drug to those leaving prison that blocks addiction to heroin and other painkillers “to maximize their success of never going back;”

  • finding money to get rid of the backlog of untested “rape kits” and ensuring that future medical examinations of rape victims get tested rather than sitting on a shelf;

  • requiring all doctors to complete a course in addiction to opioids to help stop them from overprescribing the drug;

  • mandating free admission this coming three-day weekend for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at all state parks.