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Ducey signs off on Arizona budget bill funding teacher pay increases

Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley, standing, introduces teachers from his Tucson district who were among those packing the Senate gallery while striking for better pay and school funding in Phoenix, Ariz., Monday, April 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature approved a $10.4 billion budget bill early Thursday and Gov. Doug Ducey quickly signed a school measure, effectively ending a week of teacher walkouts over low pay and inadequate education funding.

The full budget passed both the Senate and House later.

The school bill, which will help fund 10 percent raises for educators next year, will also make the first payment toward restoring nearly $400 million slashed from school building and maintenance budgets after the Great Recession.

The teacher raise will be half of a 20 percent bump that Ducey promised by 2020.

“It’s a good way to start the day,” Ducey said in a video as he signed the document.

Bill Ridenour, the chair of the Arizona Board of Regents, praised lawmakers for their work in passing the budget in a Thursday statement.

“We are pleased the state budget continues to support funding Arizona resident students at our public universities, which will help increase access and affordability,” he said.

The move came just hours before educators and supporters were set to walk out of their classrooms for a sixth workday in a row as part of the #RedForEd movement.

“I’m glad it passed and we’ll get something because I’m a single mom of three kids but it’s not enough,” Valley teacher Rebecca Wilson said. She was one of the over 200 educators who waited through the night at the state Capitol.

“We need to do something to keep teachers from leaving the state. One of my best friends is one of those leaving. She’s the best.”

Cathy Field, who teaches in the Cartwright District in Phoenix said, “The budget cuts are all I’ve ever known since I moved here from Michigan. We’re grateful for the raise but we wanted students taken care of as well.”

Organizers with Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association, the two groups leading the walkouts, announced earlier this week that teachers would not return to class until lawmakers passed the budget.

“The whole reason that we’ve been down here, trying to work with legislators and have the governor talk with us, is because we need a more robust funding system. … the governor just wants to address one item,” Joe Thomas, president of the education association, said.

“Educators had some good ideas — we wanted lower class size, that got shot down … we also wanted to see a lower counselor-to-student ration, it’s 900 to 1 and we wanted to get that down to 250 to 1, that idea was also shot down.

Thomas acknowledged teachers raises would be welcome, but added, “the problem is the governor is overselling it. He’s calling it a 20 percent raise. There’s not a 20 percent raise in it, there’s not a 10 percent raise in there.

“Teachers know they’re not going to see the raises the governor has promised them from their district because not enough state money has been given.”

Ducey had pledged not to raise taxes to pay for the schools bill.

The deal did not give teachers everything they wanted, but most believed they made major inroads. They were initially offered only a 1 percent raise by the governor.

Educators had sought an immediate 20 percent pay raise, competitive pay for support professionals, guaranteed annual raises, funding returned to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts until Arizona reached the national per-pupil funding average.

“We here in Arizona have banded together as educators, we’ve set up a grass-roots movement with 1,700 schools involved, 1,700 liaisons, and if we’re ever called to come back we will come back together and we’ll come back stronger,” middle school teacher Scott Gebbie told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

A number of those schools had planned to stay closed Thursday, citing a lack of available staff to keep them open. Other schools had already reopened or set dates to do so.

KTAR News’ Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.