Gov.’s budget seeks peace with Arizona teachers

Gov.’s budget seeks peace with Arizona teachers

(Ariz.) Despite acrimonious negotiations last spring with teachers over pay, Gov. Doug Ducey promised Arizona’s school community last week to protect raises already agreed to and work for more in the near future.

In delivering remarks about his proposed 2019-20 budget plan, Ducey made an effort to remind teachers that his administration was generally sympathetic–while others in the Capitol were not–to the wildcat walkouts last year, and that eventually he helped broker the wage increase.

“Months ago, we delivered a 20 percent pay raise for hard-working teachers,” he said at a news conference. “When we unveiled that proposal, many said, it was not possible. And no doubt forces were standing in the way. But we got that pay raise passed and into teachers’ paychecks. These are raises we are going to fulfill and raises we are going to protect.”

The tenner of Ducey’s remarks, as well as the proposed $68 million he’s included in his spending plan for higher teacher pay, stands in stark contrast to a year ago when he proposed just a 1 percent raise. That plan was in some ways the catalyst for the weeklong strike that brought huge protests to the state house last April.

To be fair, the governor did try to mollify teachers by proposing to raise pay 20 percent over two years. Educators wanted a stronger commitment for annual pay increases on top of the initial 20 percent boost as well as more funding for schools overall.

Ducey, who won reelection in November, may have responded with his latest budget.

Under the $11.9 billion spending plan, public schools would receive $163 million in new funding next year.

In addition to the salary increases, Ducey would provide $20 million over two years for early literacy programs, including full-day kindergarten. The governor’s plan earmarks $80 million for new classroom construction and maintenance of older facilities.

Perhaps most controversial, Ducey wants to more than double spending on a “results-based” program aimed at schools with the highest test results. Called the AzMERIT, the program funding would jump from $38 million this year to $98 million next year.

According to the governor’s office, the merit funding would largely to 675 high performing schools, with those with higher numbers of low-income students getting more.

Critics point out that such a system tend to lock in lower performing schools to not only less money but also perpetual academic struggles.

Other highlights include:

  • $7.3 million for IT upgrades to more efficiently make payments to schools at the Department of Education;
  • $3 million in matching funds for rural school access to internet connectivity and broadband that is expected to generate approximately $100 million in total upgrades;
  • $2.6 million additional funds for small and isolated rural schools;
  • $250,000 to expand principal leadership training;
  • $250,000 to expand teacher loan forgiveness; and
  • $100,000 for dropout prevention programs. more