#RedForEd: Teachers, legislators skeptical of Ducey’s plan for raising teacher salaries

Stefani Jenkins, a middle-school teacher in the Pendergast Elementary School District, was among the teachers at the Red for Ed protest at the Arizona Capitol on March 21. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Many educators were skeptical Friday of Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to raise teacher salaries by 20 percent, and some lawmakers – who said they had not been briefed on the specifics of the plan – called the proposal a step in the right direction.

However, they’re withholding judgement until the governor gives them more details next week. The main question is, where will the money come from if Ducey is determined to hold the line on taxes.

“We didn’t have too much of a notice that he was going to be unveiling his plan, maybe a couple of hours,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Flagstaff, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “As senators, we are trying to see how we could direct money. I think some of our plans were at a slower pace than what the governor’s wanting to do, but it was all geared to getting a 20 percent (increase).”

Ducey announced his plan Thursday to increase teacher salaries by about 20 percent by 2020. The governor said he believes increases in state revenue would offset the cost, meaning no tax increases for Arizona residents. But some lawmakers say his plan is optimistic.

“We are basing the future raises (or) increases that the governor is talking about on the continued 3 to 4 percent growth that our state has been having the last few years,” Allen said. “I think he’s very optimistic and thinks that this will happen. If not, the future legislators that have to deal with this will have to see what to do, because we’ll have to keep those promises.”

She said optimism and economic growth may not be enough, forcing the Legislature to make budget cuts in other places to prevent a tax increase.

“I’ve got to see how the governor thinks we can do that. What is it we are going to be reducing to do that,” Allen said. “The Legislature is in charge of the budget. Constitutionally, we have that responsibility. And the governor can propose what he proposes, but in the end he’s got to have the will of the Legislature.”

Some state Democrats believe Ducey’s Thursday announcement was a publicity stunt to keep teachers from walking out, a move they are considering.

“We saw a governor who got nervous about this. He saw that he wasn’t gaining ground politically because of this,” said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. “He scrambled and he tried to find a way to calm those fears of the people.”

The Arizona Red for Ed movement is part of a national outcry from teachers and education advocates about low salaries which has seen success in other parts of the country. In West Virginia, teachers went on strike for nine days before lawmakers gave them a 5 percent raise, and Oklahoma teachers were able to negotiate raises for both teachers and support staff after taking over the state Capitol for several days as part of their protest.

Related Stories

#RedForEd teachers demand 20 percent salary hike, more money for education
#RedForEd: Teachers call in sick over low pay, protest state proposal on tax cuts for wealthy
#RedForEd teachers protest low education funding in ‘walk-in’ demonstrations
Ducey proposes 20% raise for teachers by 2020; Arizonans voice opinions on #RedForEd

But lawmakers in Arizona have not even seen the proposal they are expected to pass, largely because it’s still being negotiated.

“The governor is going to be working with leadership and the bigger people,” said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, education committee vice-chair. “Leadership has to all get on the same page. That process has already begun.”

She expects legislators will be briefed on the plan sometime in the next week. Once the details have been hashed out, Brophy McGee said, she hopes the plan will be something she can throw her support behind without reservation. Until then, she’s cautiously optimistic about what she calls “a step in the right direction.”

“I need to see it,” Brophy McGee said. “I need to hear it. I need to understand it.”

Her concern is shared by teachers across the state, and the leadership of Save Our Schools Arizona, one of the grassroot organizations leading the Red for Ed charge.

“It came together quickly, so when you start to look at the details, we have a lot of questions,” said Raquel Mamani, a Save Our Schools spokeswoman. “There’s lots of things that have not been answered. Where is the money coming from, that is the big question.”

She said the proposal, which was vague on funding, didn’t meet expectations for many teachers.

“It’s almost like studying for the final after the exam,” Mamani said. “I would have thought he’d have that figured out. It makes us concerned to see where it is coming from. I think those things should have been ironed out before a national press conference.”

Teachers she has spoken with are “not that excited” about the initial proposal, Mamani said, because they have been burned by similar promises before.

“Teachers are feeling disappointed and angered about the proposal,” she said. “The trust has been broken before with the governor. We’ve seen things before where we thought we were getting help.”

Several educators took to social media to voice their displeasure, saying the announcement changed nothing without concrete plans to back it up.

And if the governor’s solution doesn’t appease educators, a walkout is still on the table.

“It all remains by the table,” Mamani said. “I think this move by the governor was very quick, it was very hasty, so I think nothing is off the table. We continue to organize, we continue to mobilize, we continue to do the work that is needed to actually fix, or at least start to fix the education problem in Arizona.”

Sign up for CRONKITE DAILY to catch up on the latest news.