Arizona Governor Reverses Course, Says 20 Percent Teacher Pay Raise Possible
After mounting threats of a teachers' strike and with a midterm election looming, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey reversed course Thursdsay and said he will urge the state's legislature to provide the state's teachers a combined 20 percent pay raise by 2020.
"It's amazing what a threatened teachers strike in an election year can get the Republicans to do," Democratic state Rep. Rebecca Rios told the Associated Press. "I'm impressed."
The promised 20 percent raise is a far cry from the 1 percent raise Ducey just days earlier said would be the most teachers could expect this fall.
Teachers in the state remain skeptical. As of Friday, it was still unclear where Ducey would find the money to sustain the raise in the coming years without increasing taxes or closing tax loopholes. And the proposal still must go through the state's Republican-dominated legislature. The state's legislative session officially ends April 17.
Pressure had been building on the one-term governor, who's up for re-election this fall. At a raucous rally in late March, Arizona Educators United, a group of teacher activists, demanded a 20 percent raise for teachers this fall, along with $1 billion more annually set aside for the state's public schools. They also demanded that the state institute annual ladder pay increases for all teachers and prohibit tax cuts until the state's $7,500 average per-pupil spending matches the nation's $11,400 average.
Ducey the very next day after the rally said that the best the state's legislature would be able to do would be provide a 1 percent pay increase this fall.
Teachers fumed, continuing to write letters to their legislators, vowing through petitions and campaign donations to vote Ducey out of office this fall and, this past Wednesday, staging a statewide "walk-in", chanting slogans, wearing bright red shirts and walking in unison into their schools.
Earlier this week, organizers said they would soon decide a day to walk out of classrooms, a move that could potentially shut down the state's schools.
Ducey said Thursday afternoon that he may have found a solution. By pulling money from the state's cash-starved coffers, from other state departments' budgets, and with anticipated revenue from the state's rebounding economy, he would be able to provide a 9 percent pay hike starting this fall for the state's teachers, and a 5 percent hike each in the 2019 and 2020 school year. Combined with the 1 percent pay raise the teachers were already expected to get if this year's budget passes, the governor said he would be able to meet the teachers' salary demands.
Derek Harris, a teacher in Tucson and an organizer for Arizona Educators United told the Associated Press, "What he gave us today was just a proposal. It wasn't legislation, and we don't know where the money's coming from, and we don't know if he's talking about everybody involved in education or just classroom teachers."
Teacher protests, walkouts, and strikes have shaken states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma. Friday, thousands of teachers in Kentucky walked off the job and crashed the state's capital in Frankfort to protest Gov. Matt Bevin's veto of the legislature's budget and his signing off on changes to the state's pension.