PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday a plan to increase teacher salaries 20 percent by 2020. This fiscal year, teachers would receive a 9 percent raise followed by a 5 percent raise next year and another 5 percent by the beginning of 2020. The 20 percent raise factors in last year’s 1 percent raise for teachers.
“Arizona teachers are the biggest difference-makers in the lives of Arizona’s children, and we need to reward them for their hard work,” Ducey said in a statement. “We will never stop our commitment to improving Arizona’s public education system because when it comes to our kids, we must never stop working for them.”
Ducey’s announcement comes after weeks of pressure from the Red For Ed movement, a nationwide effort by teachers and education advocates to increase classroom funding and teacher salaries. Arizona teachers are demanding 20-percent pay raises to address the state’s education crisis and have threatened to strike if state leaders do not respond with urgency.
Leading the state’s Red For Ed movement is the grassroots group Arizona Educators United, whose officials say a decision on a strike will come soon.
Before Ducey’s proposal, Cronkite News asked Arizona residents in our Public Insight Network for their thoughts about the demands of the Red for Ed movement, the governor’s earlier response and other questions about the educator protests.
More than 80 people responded by email. Some do not support a teacher strike; others support teachers’ demands for more education funding and a 20 percent raise. One respondent said unhappy teachers should simply quit and find better paying jobs; another said the loss of good teachers will eventually raise pay in Arizona. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
If the Legislature rejects substantial increases in teacher pay and other funding, would you support a teacher strike? Why or why not?
“Absolutely not. Teachers are paid according to their collective bargaining agreements with the school districts. If they are not happy with it, they have the same choice as everybody else. Find another career.”
– Philip Moore, works at Cox Automotive, Tucson
“I teach with many teachers that are single and struggling to put food on the table for their children. A teacher should not have to make compromises for their own children in order to teach the children of others. I am fortunate that I have a husband that makes a decent salary in order for me to keep teaching.”
– Trish Patchin, elementary teacher, Tucson
“No, teachers are employees just like any other business. If they don’t like the terms and pay of their employment, they should quit. Higher pay should attract the best teachers. So, if the money isn’t enough, the good teachers will leave. A shortage of teachers will automatically result in a higher salaries.”
– Susan Wood, real estate management, Scottsdale
Do you think a 20-percent raise for teachers is achievable? If so, what would you suggest the state do to achieve that? Would you support raising taxes or cutting other programs?
“Yes, a 20-percent raise for teachers is achievable. Stop funding private prisons, establish taxes on guns, bullets, alcohol, and restore other taxes that have been abolished by the GOP. Education is an investment and needs to be viewed as such. AZ needs to be competitive to recruit the talent that already left the state.”
– Kathy Beebe, retired educator, Tempe
“A 20 percent raise is neither reasonable nor possible. The fact that they would propose such a raise when they already make more than the median salary for the average Arizona worker simply demonstrates how out of touch with reality they really are.”
– Philip Moore, works at Cox Automotive, Tucson
“While I absolutely support a 20-percent raise for teachers, I do not think it is realistic politically. To get anywhere close to a 20-percent raise, we would need to do three things. First, accept that this would need to be stepped out over two or three years. Second, selected taxes would need to be increased (and it is critical that the taxes be equitable across the socioeconomic spectrum). Third, selected programs would need to be cut or eliminated (we need to be serious about reassessing all government programs and be willing to eliminate those that don’t work or that we no longer need).”
– David Plummer, Phoenix
Ducey has directed more money toward school districts, some of which is supposed to go to teacher pay. Have teachers in your district benefited from these extra funds? If so, how?
“Yes and no. In my district, a good portion of the money has been used to hire additional teachers to lower class sizes. The teachers are mostly on board, because we still proceed on the bromide of self-sacrifice and doing what’s best for the education of the student. I liken the situation to a deadbeat dad that pays $100 of back child support totaling $10,000. Then blames the mother for the fact that she didn’t put it toward new clothes. She spent it on beans and rice to assure her kids would be fed.”
– Mike Bradley, teacher, Pima
“Ducey has authorized a 1-percent increase in teacher salaries. One percent doesn’t even cover “cost-of-living” increases. My district is a small, rural district in southern AZ. Our Board and Superintendent/ Principal have always been supportive of teachers and students. But you can only stretch the budget so far. It’s time for the AZ Legislature to “wake up and smell the coffee”!!”
– Cynthia Colbert, Teacher, Nogales
“The teachers in our district have benefited from the money directed toward the teacher pay, but our net pay is still less than what we were seeing a year ago. Due to increase in taxes, insurance premiums and other miscellaneous items, I saw a decrease in my net pay. The small percentage of raises that Ducey has earmarked for teachers’ salaries does not cover the increase in living.”
– Trish Patchin, Elementary teacher, Tucson
Ducey says his administration has made great strides restoring education funds that were slashed in response to the Great Recession a decade ago. In your schools, have you noticed any results of this extra money?
“As someone who both went to high school in Arizona during Ducey’s tenure as governor and someone who works in the school systems I have seen a decrease in education funding and an exponential decrease in such a short time of programs, services and other activities.”
– Tyler Lyons, high school debate coach, Mesa
“Ducey is a day late and a dollar short. There needs to be significant management changes, real accountability, and teachers that perform. They get the raises. Then we will get the good teachers back first. And for God’s sake, do something about all the incompetent school administrators!”
– Steven Isham, retired educator, Avondale
“Those that caused the Great Recession a decade ago and Ducey stem from the same frame of mind. I feel sorry for Ducey’s soul. Money, power, status define Ducey’s God. Ducey justifies by action or in-action – what he believes the value of education is and those who bring it to our children. It all has little importance to him. I can strike until demands are met with a clear conscience.”
– Robin Maynes, teacher, Glendale
Some critics of the Red for Ed movement say it’s overblown. Do you think the teachers’ response to their pay has been appropriate? Why or why not?
“I wish we had had the courage to strike years ago. A little known fact about public education in Arizona is that districts have to have 50 percent or more teachers in favor of a union to actually have a union. A lot of the smaller rural districts don’t have unions and the administrators in these districts have the potential to act either as benevolent dictators or ruthless despots. I’ve worked with ruthless despots who (illegally) used teacher evaluations to punish teachers who were not “in line.” I’ve even been on the receiving end of administrative wrath and let me tell you … without union support, there isn’t much anyone can do about administrative abuse short of spending $200 an hour for an attorney.”
– David Chin, chef instructor, Bullhead City
“I don’t think it has been overblown. I think teachers have “been there” for their students for many years. I do not believe they went into the profession thinking they would get rich. But now they cannot pay their own bills with a single job. Enough is enough.”
– Shelly Truxal, medical, Queen Creek
“The the teachers’ response to their pay is long overdue! I work at my teaching job up to 16 hours each day. I miss my 6 children. I’ve missed so much of their lives. Both Masters degrees from 30 years ago have served me well while teaching. But I have little to show other than I’ll have to work until I’m dead to keep food on the table and pay for my kids’ college. It’s all so horrible.”
– Robin Maynes, teacher, Glendale
Cronkite News reporter Chris McCrory contributed to this article.