PHOENIX — A year after tens of thousands of teachers and education advocates marched through Phoenix streets demanding action on low teacher pay and per student funding that remains below pre-recession levels, #RedForEd supporters and Arizona Educators United are seeking progress on demands not addressed last year.
This year, #RedForEd is encouraging educators to pack the gallery at the Arizona Legislature when legislators are working on the budget, and Save Our Schools Arizona is encouraging education supporters to wear red and attend legislative Committee of the Whole and floor sessions.
This year, teachers and education advocates are seeking legislative action on Arizona Educators United’s four demands that were not addressed last year: Restoration of per-pupil funding for public schools to 2008 levels, competitive pay for all education support professionals, a salary plan that provides an annual raise and a halt to tax cuts until Arizona’s per-pupil funding reaches the national average.
In a Facebook video last week, Rebecca Garelli, a teacher and Arizona Educators United member, said, “We had five demands. Only a tiny bit of one was met. We still have a job to do, and our job is to remind our legislators that we are still watching. We are watching the budget. We are organizing ourselves, and we are ready to turn up the heat if we need to.”
Last week, teachers rallied in downtown Tucson for more funding and talked about the ongoing challenges they face in their classrooms, according to an Arizona Public Media article.
“A year ago, we asked for five demands, and they met the teacher pay partially, but they haven’t really provided the adequate funding we need for the schools,” said John Upston, a teacher at Rincon High School in the Tucson Unified School District at the rally during an Arizona 360 video interview.
Katie Rogers, a teacher at Cavett Elementary School in Tucson Unified School District, said at the rally that at her school there were two classrooms without a permanent teacher two months into the school year. “There were days we were forced to keep our kids in at lunch because there was nobody outside to be monitoring the playground during lunch.”
Educators attend town hall on priorities
Educators wearing red packed the Town Hall to discuss budget priorities hosted by the Arizona Legislature’s House and Senate Democrats on Saturday, April 27.
“Our goal here is to get your input to get your participation so that we can be advocates for you down at the Capitol when we put together this fiscal year 2020 budget,” said Rep. Martin Quezada. “As we all know, a budget is a reflection of our values and a reflection of our priorities, so we want to hear what your values and priorities are.”
“We want to make sure our schools have the resources they need to make sure that our kids flourish in schools, that our teachers are well-paid,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Charlene Fernandez.
When teachers walked to the Capitol last year, “you weren’t just talking about raises for yourselves, you said you cared about your schools, you cared about support staff, you cared about nurses and cafeteria workers and groundskeepers and speech pathologists and special education teachers,” Fernandez said.
“But most of all, you cared about the kids; that’s because it comes right down to that,” Fernandez continued. “Whenever we do our edits, whenever we think about the budget, we keep your stories in mind.”
Fernandez also took aim at the governor’s results-based funding plan.
“That’s $140 million going to schools that are already doing well. That is not equity, and that is not fairness,” Fernandez said. “We need to make sure that all our kids succeed, that all our schools are well-funded.”
Jeanne Casteen, a teacher in Isaac School District and governing board president of Creighton School District, attended the town hall and said, “What is already an inequitable system, with the way that our tax money is distributed, then we have those tax credits. When you look at the comparison, you see that some districts are able to generate a lot of funds that way. So what is the Democratic Party’s position on that, and what would you like to see done to be able to at least improve it, make it equitable or do away with it all together?”
Sen. Juan Mendez said “I personally would do away with the whole program. I never went to a school where we had the families to support that or do anything worthwhile. It’s definitely not good for children growing up in these kinds of systems to know that they’re doing better because of that; it’s still part of this problem that your zip code is what kind of future you have.”
“This is the bleak picture of K-12 funding for our school system in Arizona,” said Rep. Kelli Butler. “You can see from the height of funding in 2008 to today we are still about $670 million per-pupil below where we were at the height of funding before the recession, and I don’t need to tell anyone in this room what that means. We are still — as a whole — for our public schools, we are still $800 million short in where we were pre-recession. Everyone who’s a teacher in this room knows what that means to our students, to our teachers and to our public schools.
“There’s so much more that we need to do,” Butler said. “Remember when we’re looking at this picture, this includes the funding from Prop. 123, which was that measure that took more money from the state land trust that’s designed to be in perpetuity to fund our schools and also includes the first installment on the governor’s 20 by 2020 plan.”
How the teacher pay increase worked out
Last year, Arizona Legislators and the Governor approved the 20 by 2020 plan last session in response, which raises teacher pay 20 percent over three years and includes a 5 percent raise in this year’s budget.
Data shows that helped teacher pay increase pretty close to 10 percent, said Dr. Anabel Aportela, research director for Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Boards Association.
According to Public School District Employee reports submitted to the Arizona Department of Education, the average full-time equivalent teacher salary statewide rose from $46,911 in fiscal year 2018 to $50,973 in fiscal year 2019, which in an increase of about $4,062, or 8.65 percent, Aportela said. The data does not include charter schools except for a handful that happen to report it.
Why did teacher salaries not increase exactly 10 percent? Because the 10 percent that was promised by the Governor’s Office used fiscal year 2017 as the base and included the 1 percent increase from 2017 to 2018,
Dr. Aportela said.
When you calculate the change in teacher salaries to include that, then teacher salaries rose from $46,694 in fiscal year 2017 to $50,973 in fiscal year 2019, which is a difference of $4,279, or 9.16 percent, Aportela said.
“This is pretty close to the 10 percent, considering that it was always going to be more challenging for some of the higher-paying districts to reach 10 percent,” Aportela said. “The funding went out on a per-pupil basis, regardless of existing teacher salary levels.”
That means raising teacher salaries 10 percent in a district already paying $50,000 required an additional $5,000 per teacher, while raising teacher salaries 10 percent for a district paying $40,000 required an additional $4,000 per teacher.
Many school districts also provided raises for nonteaching support staff, and all school districts are still implementing the phase-in of the minimum wage increases with no additional funding for either, Aportela said.
What’s next with the budget
Right now, Arizona legislators are still negotiating and working on the $11.4 billion budget for the State of Arizona. Usually, a budget is passed in April or May, but this year, the budget process could stretch into June.
This year, legislators face several challenges in crafting a budget.
Gov. Doug Ducey would like to put $150 million in revenue from changes in federal tax policy into the state’s rainy day fund, while Republican and Democratic legislators approved legislation sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard earlier this session that would have returned that money to Arizona taxpayers; but Ducey vetoed it.
In addition, some legislators are trying to repeal the new $32 a vehicle registration fee that would pay for Highway Patrol, but Ducey said the $200 million is needed. Last session, legislators approved the fee, thinking it would be no more than $18 a vehicle, according to a Capitol Media Services article.
Lastly, the State of Arizona may bring significantly more than it forecast earlier this year, which means there may be more available for one-time spending this legislative session.