With Walkout Looming, Governor Ducey Offers Teachers a 20 Percent Raise

With Walkout Looming, Governor Ducey Offers Teachers a 20 Percent Raise
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Governor Doug Ducey announced a plan to give teachers a 9 percent raise this year and another 10 percent by 2020, in a victory for the Arizona educators demanding higher pay.

"Last year’s budget combined with this year’s budget will result in a 10 percent increase in teacher pay in the base — ongoing, inflated. Next year’s budget will include another 5 percent increase, the year after that will include another 5 percent," Ducey said at a news conference April 12.

Ducey's plan is in response to the statewide #RedForEd movement of teachers who want a 20 percent wage hike and increased school funding from the Legislature. State lawmakers are scrambling to respond to the newly mobilized teachers. Teachers are asking for restored school funding to match pre-recession levels and no new tax cuts until Arizona's per-pupil spending reaches the national average.

How teachers will answer Ducey's proposal is not clear, but it's hard to see this as anything but a sign of the power of #RedForEd. The movement began last month as a loose coalition of teachers inspired by a successful strike in West Virginia, where teachers wrangled a 5 percent raise from reluctant state lawmakers.

In a reference to the #RedForEd movement, Ducey on Thursday said, “I’ve been listening and I’ve been impressed. But the winners today are the teachers in the state of Arizona. If others want to claim credit, they’re more than welcome to jump on the bandwagon.”

On Monday, leaders of the grassroots Arizona Educators United group announced that they have a "long-term" walkout timeline in mind and plan to release the dates as early as next week. And on April 11, thousands of teachers around the state held "walk-ins" outside of their school buildings before the first bell to demonstrate their solidarity and to tell parents why they're demanding increased pay and school funding.

The possibility of a teacher's strike appears to have lit a fire under Ducey and Speaker of the House J.D. Mesnard.

Republicans in the House are working on a teacher-pay proposal of their own, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. But the plan would function as a kind of shell game, moving around dollars in the education budget without introducing new cash.

Under the plan, the Legislature would direct school districts to allocate dollars to teacher pay that were originally intended for general school needs like transportation, building improvements, and books. By diverting funds from capital expenditures in this way, the House plan amounts to a 24 percent teacher pay increase over six years.

Ducey seemed to reference the House plan in his announcement on Thursday, explaining that the pay raise by 2020 will come from new investment, in addition to a promised $371 million in school district assistance.

"We know that there are other needs in public education, so there will be no shell games,” Ducey said.

Until today, the Legislature and Ducey have been loath to propose a substantive, immediate teacher pay increase beyond the 1 percent increase built into next year's budget. And although there has been a gradual increase in education funding since Ducey took office in 2015, Arizona has yet to recover from massive education funding cuts that took place after the 2008 recession.

 When AEU teachers announced their demands, Ducey argued to a scrum of reporters that Arizona is improving in terms of teacher pay: “I’m just saying we’re not last," he said.

The #RedForEd teachers took it as an insult.

"We want to know — what is he proud of in our education system?" AEU leader Derek Harris told Phoenix New Times. "Because it ain’t the teacher pay. He still keeps trying to tinker with that. And it isn’t the student funding, because we continue to scrape the bottom there."

Calculations from the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University show Arizona teacher salaries are near the bottom of a nationwide ranking when you factor in cost-of-living. The latest numbers for 2017 show the median Arizona high school teacher salary at 48th nationwide and elementary school teachers at 49th.

When faced with the teachers' demand for a 20 percent pay raise, Ducey has repeatedly argued that increased dollars are flowing into the education budget. The second installment of a 2 percent increase is scheduled to take effect next year, according to Ducey's proposed budget.

But at the same time, Ducey has been reluctant to directly address the #RedForEd leaders. He declined to meet with AEU leader Noah Karvelis and Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas, who asked to sit down with Ducey to discuss the AEU demands.

When reporters asked the governor earlier this week if he thought the #RedForEd campaign was political, Ducey referred to Karvelis as "a political operative." Karvelis is a music teacher at Tres Rios Service Academy in the West Valley and also serves as the campaign manager for Kathy Hoffman, a candidate running for superintendent of public instruction.

In the same conversation, Ducey also incorrectly conflated the Arizona Education Association's endorsement of David Garcia for governor on March 7 with the #RedForEd movement, saying that Karvelis as an AEU leader "endorsed a gubernatorial candidate on the day they kicked off."

"Is that your definition of politics?" Ducey asked.

But teachers are adamant: Their demands have nothing to do with political calculus or gubernatorial maneuvering, and everything to do with the abysmal classroom conditions around the state.

"There’s no theater here," said Derek Harris, a #RedForEd leader. "This is real."

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty