Originally Published: April 27, 2018 5:56 a.m.
PHOENIX — Republican legislative leaders were closing in on a deal late Thursday to give Gov. Doug Ducey the pay hike he wants for teachers -- but not the package being demanded by tens of thousands of educators who walked off the job.
The plan is to provide Ducey with the 19 percent increase for teacher pay -- he says it’s 20 percent if you count the 1 percent salary hike already in this year’s paychecks -- assuming that funding details can be worked out for other non-educational programs, like health care for the poor and aid to counties.
It also means that lawmakers will not demand that Ducey provide a dedicated revenue source for the more than $1 billion price tag for his entire education package.
But there is still no agreement on exactly how those dollars will be divided up.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said it isn’t a simple matter of saying that teachers will get a 20 percent pay raise by the 2020-2021 school year.
Kavanagh, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the plan as crafted by Ducey is worded in a way that teachers -- and only teachers -- would get a 9 percent increase this coming school year, another 5 percent the year after that and 5 percent more the third year. But that, he said, means each new raise is compounded on the other, making the effective net pay increase actually more than 20 percent.
A potentially more troubling sticking point is whether schools will have to spend the $670 million for teacher salaries strictly on that.
“We want to be assured that the money is directed to pay increases,’’ Kavanagh said. But he said it’s not that simple.
He said some school districts, including in Scottsdale, already have raised teacher pay by 14 percent, putting off things like repairs. Kavanagh said there is some sentiment to allowing school boards to use the new “teacher pay’’ money to backfill those repair accounts.
One option, Kavanagh said, would be to give school boards more leeway -- but only after a public vote, what he called “kind of a shaming.’’
And then there’s the question of whether the dollars for teacher pay have to be divided up evenly. Kavanagh said some districts might want to use the lion’s share of their dollars to sharply bump up the salaries of new teachers.
While there may be enough GOP votes for the package, none of this is likely to satisfy members of the #RedForEd movement who drew more than 50,000 supporters to rally at the Capitol on the first day of the strike.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, pointed out that supporters that the plan provides for a pay hike solely for classroom teachers. Left out are support staff like counselors, custodians, bus drivers and teaching aides.
“The governor thinks he’s going to buy enough of you off that you’ll shut up and go back to the classroom,’’ he said. And Thomas said nothing the governor is offering deal with other demands, like restoring the cuts that have been made in state funding to education that currently leaves per-student funding in Arizona below where it was a decade ago, even before inflation is taken into account.
The governor has countered that his plan also would restore $371 million in school district assistance during the next five years, money that was denied during the recession. Ducey said these dollars do not have a lot of strings, giving school officials sufficient latitude to provide raises for those who are not teachers.
What’s also missing, Thomas said, is a demand by educators to restore student funding to where it was a decade ago. And then there’s the fact that Ducey believes the cost of the package can be financed through economic growth, with no new taxes.