(The Center Square) – Teacher pay in Arizona has become a hot-button issue, with both Democrats and Republicans proposing increases but not supporting the alternative. Meanwhile, teacher’s unions are demanding a spending hike worth more than both parties’ plans.
Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, has introduced H.B. 2800 – seeking to increase the salary of teachers statewide by $10,000 by 2025. The bill would cost taxpayers $1.1 billion over two years but it makes Arizona’s average teacher pay the fourth-highest in the nation.
Gress, a former teacher, introduced the bill to the Arizona House and received support from the Arizona Department of Education, run by Republican Tom Horne. Unlike other former education appropriation bills, the “Pay Teachers First” program seeks to increase salaries by a flat amount, rather than a percentage. This allows for an additional increase in starter teacher pay, as well as accountability on spending.
“When I was a teacher, I struggled to make ends meet and was out-of-pocket many resources needed for my students,” Gress said. “Teachers don’t go into this profession to get rich, but they also aren’t expected to live in poverty, either.”
By contrast, Gov. Katie Hobbs proposed in her budget $198.6 million to “retain critical education staff,” increasing the base state funding level for schools by 3.04%. This is in addition to various spending increases in public education.
The state’s teachers union is siding with Hobbs. Of Gress’ plan, the union said the bill only boosts the pay of teachers but not other educators, such as special education parapreofessionals or administrative support. It also lacks the specifics of how to cover payroll taxes and pension contributions that increase with salary, union leaders said.
“Every few years, members of this same political party realize that their constant attacks on public education have made them politically vulnerable,” said Arizona Education Association President Marisol Garcia in an Arizona Republic op-ed. “They then put together a slapdash, poorly written proposal on teacher pay – and have the gall to criticize us for failing to support it.”
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne described the lack of support as “shocking and outrageous,” calling for any concerned legislator to amend the bill, rather than vote against it.
“No school can be any better than the quality of the teachers in the classroom,” Horne said. “Our surrounding states have higher salaries and we must stop losing our teachers to them. Priority one must be raising salaries, especially as the money is available right now with no tax increase required.”
Horne and Gress hosted a media event the afternoon of March 23 to go over any concerns, including over pay issues.
“We all say education is priceless,” Madison Elementary School Board President Dr. Marcus Osborn said. “And the best way to demonstrate this is to act upon a plan that shows real investment. I am so proud and excited to work with ideal public servants like Matt Gress, and other legislators and candidates who have endorsed this plan, to pass legislation that will positively impact millions of Arizonans–not just now, but future generations.”
Alternatively, the AEA is proposing a $2.2 billion plan that includes $580 million in teacher pay increases with millions more in benefits and specialty teacher pay bumps.