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Gov. Doug Ducey to increase teacher pay by 20 percent in two years

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing the order calling the Legislature into a special session, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, at the Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — After weeks of protests, walk-ins and potential strikes over low pay and poor classroom conditions, teachers in Arizona could soon see an increase in their paychecks.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday that teachers in the state would receive a 20 percent pay raise over the next two years.

Teachers would see a one percent pay raise in fiscal year 2018, a nine percent raise in fiscal year 2019 and then a five percent raise in both fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The average teacher pay in Arizona is $48,723, according to Ducey.

If the Legislature passes the increase, Ducey said teachers would see their pay increase to an average of $52,725 by the upcoming school year and $58,130 by 2020.

Ducey also pledged $371 million in district assistance to provide flexible funding for schools to use on various improvement projects.

“We can do this and do it in a responsible, sustainable way,” Ducey said.

“We are going to be working through the weekend, I believe the legislature is in line with that and I know we can get this done.”

The announcement came one day after thousands of educators and supporters from schools across Arizona joined forces before classes to participate in so-called “walk-ins.”

Teachers have been taking to the streets for weeks as a part of the #RedForEd movement, which was launched by Arizona Educators United, to call on Ducey and other Arizona lawmakers to dedicate more funds to teacher pay and classroom improvements.

Two of the largest school districts in Arizona — Mesa Public Schools and Tucson Unified School District — voted unanimously this week to support the #RedForEd movement.

Teachers vowed to hold the protests every Wednesday this month.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard also outlined his own plan to increase teacher pay on Thursday.

Mesnard’s plan included boosting teacher pay by 6 percent in the coming school year, with annual increases that could lead to a 23 percent increase after five years.

However, the proposal does it by redirecting cash already committed or planned for school districts in coming years, so school districts would feel the squeeze.

“We put out there a way to make sure that money that we have that we want to allocate in the coming years specifically goes to teachers,” Mesnard said. “It’s hundreds of millions of dollars. By 2023 I think you’re at $800 million a year.”

The money comes by redirecting $400 million in cuts Ducey promised to restore to school districts over four years, requiring schools to use annual mandatory inflation boosts to give teachers pay raises and using money freed up once school construction bonds are repaid in 2021. That money was already committed to teacher pay.

A top school business official said Mesnard’s plan would harm schools more than it would help teachers.

“Any proposal that wants to increase teacher salaries by 20 percent but does not want to put any more money into the school funding is leading Arizona schools and charter schools down a road to disaster,” said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

That’s because taking an existing funding stream would further erode the ability to replace textbooks, school buses, computers to make repairs to facilities.

Arizona Educators United had called on Ducey to increase teacher pay by 20 percent, have competitive pay for all school employees, restore per student funding to 2008 levels, enact a permanent salary structure that allows for predictable raises and to raise Arizona funding to the national average.

But the governor previously said that he would not concede to the 20 percent increase, instead sticking to a 1 percent raise and telling school districts to get what they could out of $100 million in extra cash that he was putting into his current budget proposal.

Despite the move, Ducey still had some pointed words for the #RedForEd participants on Thursday.

“I want to say that I have been listening and I’ve been impressed,” Ducey said, referring to the statewide protests.

“But the winners today are the teachers in the state of Arizona. If some others want to claim credit they’re more than welcome to jump on the bandwagon.”

Arizona teachers were among the lowest paid in the nation. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers in Arizona rank 50th in earnings nationally and high school teachers rank 49th.

National Education Association data showed Arizona teachers are paid around $47,000 annually, compared to a national average of about $58,000.

The statewide strikes picked up steam after teachers across West Virginia protested in March, causing a nine-day shutdown of public schools. The strike ended after state officials vowed to raise teacher pay five percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.