Arizona teacher survey: Use Prop 123 to raise salaries

Joe Thomas, a high school history teacher in Mesa and vice president of the Arizona Education Association, said that many schools will spend the Prop 123 money on teacher raises. (Photo by Selena Makrides/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Some Arizona teachers want Proposition 123 money to be used to increase teacher pay, but the state’s two major teacher associations disagree over how the money should be spent.

“It would be great to get a raise in the short term,” said Mary Saraceni, who has taught in the Tucson Unified School District for 26 years. But the money is not enough to help students — and their teachers — in the long run, she said. “Schools are in a world of hurt in Arizona and we need some permanent funding to make teachers of children a priority in the state.”

The Arizona Federation of Teachers opposes the education funding measures because it believes low-income schools will not get a fair share of the money. The larger Arizona Education Association said it will improve teacher salaries, support all-day kindergarten and help pay for textbooks and technology.

The education funding measure, which appears headed for approval, calls for $3.5 billion to be allocated to education over the next decade. Supporters marketed it as a win for teachers but local school districts decide how the money will be spent. About 51 percent of voters approved the proposition, based on unofficial ballot results.

Nearly 85 percent of Arizona teachers who responded to a Cronkite News questionnaire said Prop 123 money should go toward teacher salaries.

“It’s something instant for the teachers. There is so little out there that is done for educators as it is,” said Kimberly Waters, who teaches fourth graders in Show Low.

“I think it may have a few drawbacks on it but I think for now and over the next ten years at least educators are getting thanked or getting compensated for all the hard work they do,” said Waters, who was among 32 teachers who answered the survey.

Teacher retention is an ongoing issue in Arizona, in part because of salaries that are lower than in school districts in neighboring states. An Arizona School Administrators Association survey of 79 districts found 62 percent of schools had open teaching positions, according to an Arizona Department of Education retention report in 2015.

The average teacher salary in Arizona is $49,885, compared to $52,000 to more than $69,000 in Oregon, California, Washington, and Nevada, according to the same ADE retention report.

“The way I feel anytime there’s funding available for students, I think it’s a good thing,” said Jarrod Posner, a Phoenix- area teacher who has another reason to support Prop 123. “I have a child who goes to school so as a parent I think more money is needed for the classroom as well,” Posner said.

Posner and other teachers said Prop 123 is just a first step in funding education in Arizona.

“I feel like it’s not a perfect solution but it is one that is needed so desperately,” said Lori Hart, a Cave Creek Unified School teacher who said raises are scarce.

Ralph Quintana, president of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, is concerned about more than just salaries. The federation opposed Prop 123 because of impact on Arizona’s low-income schools.

“We have an unfair funding practice in Arizona,” Quintana said. Arizona’s school funding formula rewards higher-income, more well attended schools but punishes lower-income schools struggling with attendance and other learning needs, he said.

But leaders in the Arizona Education Association said Prop 123 money will deliver much needed resources.

“If we expect our students to succeed, then Arizona must provide our teachers and schools with adequate resources and funding to meet the state’s higher expectations or we will continue to see droves of teachers leaving the profession in debt and tears,” according to a statement on the association’s website.

Arizona elected officials continued to duel on social media over the proposition.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who supported the ballot measure, tweeted he is confident the proposition will begin to help Arizona schools in the coming months.

Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWitt continues to criticize the proposition. DeWitt tweeted last week he was “deeply concerned” about the election results.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sources in the Public Insight Network informed the reporting in this story through a partnership with the Cronkite PIN Bureau. To send us a story idea or learn more, click here.