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Arizona Superintendent Diane Douglas making teacher salaries a priority

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas appears before the Senate Education Committee in Phoenix, Ariz., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. Douglas tried to persuade the committee not to advance a bill she contends gives some of her powers to the Board of Education. The committee passed the bill on a 5-2 vote. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
LISTEN: Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction

PHOENIX — Keeping quality teachers in Arizona is the main priority for Arizona superintendent Diane Douglas, who laid out the struggles for the state in a recent interview on The Chad Benson Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We are 48th for high school teachers and 50th for elementary schools,” said Douglas in regards to teacher salaries.

Low salaries for teachers have contributed to a shortage in the state, as Arizona’s teachers can cross state lines for better pay in places such as California and New Mexico, where teachers are unionized.

One positive that Douglas brought up was the improvement in the National Assessment of Education Progress tests.

“To see our students have the greatest gains in the nation, doesn’t put us at the top of the list, but we’re having the greatest amount of improvement. That is very encouraging to me,” said Douglas.

In order to keep improving, Douglas said that the state needs more money.

“We have a $9.3 or $9.5 billion general fund, and that sounds like a lot of money,” said Douglas. “Massachusetts, which has about the same population we do, both population and student enrollment population, they have an almost $40 billion general fund budget.”

Proposition 301 is one of the Education Department’s revenue sources and is up for renewal. Currently, it takes a sales tax of 0.6 percent and if increased to 1 percent, the law could generate an extra $400 million. Douglas says 3/4 of that money would be used for teacher salaries.

“I’m not a fan of sales tax because it hurts the people we most want to help, our low income people. But right now that’s the mechanism that the legislature has given us,” said Douglas.

Douglas also said that she was happy to stand by Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent plans to restore the Additional Assistance cuts from the recession era.

“That was facilities money that was taken away from our schools. When we take the capital money away that means we have to substitute our teacher salaries,” said Douglas.

Douglas saw opportunity for a new potential revenue streams, not including property tax, that could help improve both teacher salaries and the states limited available resources.

“Arizona is a huge exporter of energy and yet our citizens get nothing for that resource that we take out of our state,” said Douglas.

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