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A month after six-day walkout, pay for Arizona teachers trending upward

(AP Photo/Matt York)

KTAR News 92.3 FM continues to cover education in Arizona. This week’s focus is on “The Changing Face of the Arizona Teacher.”

PHOENIX — A month after a six-day walkout that led to a 20 percent raise by 2020, pay for teachers in Arizona is trending upward.

“Arizona has traditionally been towards the bottom of teacher pay,” said Dan Hunting, a senior policy analyst at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

He said the latest numbers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that is starting to change.

Elementary school teachers in Arizona are no longer the worst-paid in the country: Arizona now ranks No. 49 nationwide for elementary school teacher pay, behind Oklahoma.

Arizona also moved up one spot for high school teacher pay, to No. 48. The median pay for Arizona elementary school teachers is $44,990 and $48,306 for high school teachers.

Hunting said Gov. Doug Ducey’s promise to give teachers a 20 percent boost in pay by the start of the 2020 school year, including a 10 percent this upcoming school year, could continue to move Arizona up the rankings. But it depends on whether other states continue increasing their pay for teachers.

“If they continue to do that, even if we’re increasing our pay pretty substantially, we may not go up that much in the rankings,” Hunting said. “On the other hand, if they say, ‘We’ve already raised pay, we’re going to level off,’ then we could skyrocket up.”

The governor’s pay increase plan approved in the state budget in May gives teachers a 10 percent pay raise this year, followed by 5 percent raises in 2019 and 2020.

School districts have already started announcing pay raises for teachers for the upcoming school year.

Christine Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, said pay raises will vary by school district. She said some districts are planning to spend most of the state funds they’ll get to raise teacher salaries and some are planning to use some of the funds to boost pay for support staff, such as counselors, librarians and bus drivers.

Thompson said some districts could also decide to hire more teachers to help reduce class sizes. “Working conditions for teachers could potentially improve,” she said.

Her group predicted that if the full 20 percent pay raise took effect today, Arizona would move up to the mid-30s in the nationwide rankings for teacher pay.

“We have been far behind on teacher pay for some time now,” Thompson said. “But the budget that was just passed is a great step in the right direction. It will make a difference.”

For now, she said Arizona was way behind neighboring states for teacher pay.

The median pay for teachers in California is $69,039, in New Mexico it’s $59,587, in Nevada it’s $56,719 and in Utah it’s $54,701, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Our competitor states, except for Colorado, are really near the center of the rest of the country,” Thompson said.

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