Republican Legislative members in Arizona have devised a strategy that could provide a pay raise to teachers without any additional money from taxpayers.
At a Capitol lawn press conference on Monday, Tom Horne, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, and representatives from the Senate and House GOP unveiled the “Teacher Pay Fund”.
When factoring in wage and living expenses, Arizona’s teacher pay has been determined to rank as the lowest in the entire nation.
Given the large $400 million budget gap the state is facing, there likely won’t be sufficient funds to provide teachers with a salary increase next year.
Republican legislators are suggesting a 7% salary hike for public school educators, the equivalent of roughly $4,000 annually. This would cost an estimated $300 million.
Senate President Warren Petersen of Gilbert declared that the proposed plan would raise the typical Arizona teacher’s salary to above the $60,000 mark annually, which is an increase from the current average yearly earnings of $56,000.
Money for education and other necessities would be sourced from the Arizona State Land Endowment Fund. This may sound familiar, as seven years ago Arizona residents passed a ballot measure, called Prop 123, to allocate resources from the endowment to K-12 schools.
The GOP proposed to redirect the entire $300 million currently set aside for K-12 education and direct it to the Teacher Pay Fund.
According to state Sen. Ken Bennett of Prescott, chair of the Senate Education Committee, the top priority for education in Arizona is having a skilled teacher in front of students each day.
A potential issue with the GOP strategy is that Prop 123 will need to be extended by citizens in the year 2026.
GOP legislators are hoping to expedite the renewal process through a referendum at the state level within the next year.
Petersen noted that if the renewal is voted on in the upcoming year and receives a positive vote, teachers would have the pay raises by 2025.
Petersen declared that the decision ultimately rests with the electorate, but he is confident that they will favor raising teachers’ salaries.
At a press conference on Monday, the speaker declared: “We are thoroughly analyzing our budget and developing our executive plan, all while keeping in mind the restrictions for the coming year.”
No comment has been issued by Governor Katie Hobbs from the Democratic Party. At the start of the new legislative session on Jan. 8, 2024, Governor Hobbs will communicate her objectives for Arizona in her State of the State address.
In a statement, Marisol Garcia, the leader of the Arizona Education Association — the biggest teachers’ union in the state said, “Educators in Arizona need an increase in pay, and we would be more than willing to collaborate with anyone who is dedicated to making this happen. As is always the case, the specifics are what will make or break the situation. We are eagerly awaiting further information.”