Arizona schools Superintendent Diane Douglas calls for major raise for teachers
A majority of Arizona schools are experiencing a teacher shortage, according to an ASU Morrison Institute report, and low pay may be at least partly to blame.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas is calling for a state sales-tax hike to fund an immediate 11 percent teacher pay raise — five times the amount Gov. Doug Ducey proposed in his budget — and an additional $100 million a year for school repairs.
Douglas is proposing to ask voters to permanently expand the Proposition 301 sales tax to a full cent. Prop. 301 currently taxes sales at six-tenths of a cent and brings in about $600 million a year for education. It's set to expire in 2021.
Douglas said her plan would generate an additional $400 million a year. For the first two years, she wants $300 million a year to fund a one-time 11 percent teacher salary hike and $100 million a year to go to the School Facilities Board for school repairs. After that, the plan calls for $350 million a year to cover the teacher raises and $50 million a year to the School Facilities Board.
"The average teacher would see about a $5,000 raise," Douglas said. "Our teachers need to be paid more."
Douglas made the announcement Thursday morning at an Arizona Business Education Coalition forum.
"It's no wonder we sometimes have a very difficult time attracting teachers. They work in an environment where they feel restricted, they feel disrespected and most certainly underpaid," Douglas said. "We owe it to our students and teachers to make sure we have a dedicated funding stream. I implore you to settle for no less."
Douglas did not indicate when she would like the measure put before voters. She said she hopes to have the Legislature put it on the ballot instead of going through the process of collecting thousands of signatures through the initiative process.
"The sooner the better," she said. "We need to get the money to our teachers."
It is generally too late for new legislation to be introduced this session unless it is part of the budget, but it could occur during a special session or during the regular session next year and still qualify for the fall 2018 ballot. Douglas and Ducey are both up for re-election in 2018.
Ducey and the Legislature are in the midst of negotiating next year's budget. Ducey has proposed a 0.4 percent raise for teachers each year for the next five years. Preliminary legislative proposals indicate Republican lawmakers are pushing for at least a 1 percent raise and possibly more. Democratic lawmakers have called for a 4 percent raise next year.
Douglas said her staff notified Ducey's office Wednesday night about her proposal but they didn't get feedback. She said she plans to send letters to the Legislature to begin discussions with them as soon as possible.
Douglas said she believes the public support exists for a tax increase, if the money is focused on teacher raises.
"I hate taxes. And I'm not a particular fan of sales taxes because I think they can hurt our most vulnerable families," she said. "But that's the system we have."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas gives her "State of Education" speech to the Senate Education Committee Jan. 19, 2017, at the Arizona state Senate in Phoenix. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
Douglas' proposal to set aside a portion of the funds for school capital costs is an acknowledgment of a looming state lawsuit over school funding.
The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest is expected to file a lawsuit on behalf of several school districts alleging the governor and state Legislature have shorted districts hundreds of millions of dollars a year for building-maintenance and soft-capital needs. Attorney Tim Hogan in late February said the lawsuit could come within the next month or two.
Ducey in his budget proposal included an additional $17 million to the School Facilities Board for building maintenance, while Republican lawmakers are considering about twice that. But both proposals continue hundreds of millions of dollars in annual cuts directly to schools for other school maintenance and soft capital such as technology, textbooks and buses.
Since 2009, ongoing cuts in this area have topped $2 billion.
Ducey has been less clear
While discussions have swirled among education groups for more than a year over how to address the looming sunset of the Prop. 301 sales tax, Douglas is the first statewide-elected official to publicly support expanding the tax.
Ducey has been less publicly clear on his position. Earlier this year, he said he would work with education leaders to develop a new Prop. 301 proposal to take to the voters at some point down the line, but declined to say whether he would support increasing the tax.
“We are not going to raise taxes. We are going to have discussions, and there are opportunities around tax reform that could bring more money to K-12 education through a modern Prop. 301," he said.
As state treasurer in 2012, he successfully fought a ballot measure that proposed a separate 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax in which 80 percent went to education and the remainder to transportation. At the time, Ducey called it "a bad idea and a bad tax."
Ducey ran for governor on a pledge not to increase taxes during his tenure, and has said his position on Prop. 301 doesn't change that.
“Things haven’t changed — there are not going to be any new taxes,” he said earlier this year. “This is a funding program, and we’re going to continue a funding program.”
When asked about Douglas' proposal, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in a statement that, "the governor is on record supporting the extension of Prop. 301, but it needs to be done in a way that makes sense, is good public policy, and most importantly, can actually win support from legislators and the voters."
READ MORE: Ducey will support extending education tax
Where does the money go?
Part of the Prop. 301 conversation has been about whether the money is going where it should and whether additional accountability measures should be in a future plan. Opinions vary, from those wanting more money for teacher salaries to those who support designating funds for full-day kindergarten.
Douglas said Thursday she is open to discussions about tweaking the revenue streams for the existing tax as well.
The current tax designates how the money can be spent. Any new proposal could keep the same restrictions or create new ones. Here is how just more than $643 million was allocated in fiscal 2016:
- Teacher salaries, reducing class sizes, student programs such as reading intervention: $364 million.
- K-12 public schools to fund five additional school days and related salary costs: $86 million.
- Universities to fund technology and research-based initiatives: $69.6 million.
- School-improvement revenue bonds to repair school buildings: $64 million.
- Reimbursement to the state for income-tax credits for families that earn less than $25,000: $25 million.
- Community colleges and tribal colleges to fund workforce-development programs: $18 million.
- K-12 public schools for school safety and character education: $8 million.
- Development of a statewide computerized database to track attendance and performance: $7 million.
- Tutoring for students in failing schools: $1.5 million.
Dick Foreman, president and CEO of the Arizona Business Education Coalition where Douglas made her announcement, said he was happy to hear Douglas say she was open to reformulating how Prop. 301 revenue is dispersed and that she's open to ideas of other permanent education funding streams in addition to expanding Prop. 301. He was still examining the specifics of the proposal but said he was encouraged by Douglas’ interest in tweaking how the funds are targeted.
"We're in the discussion phase," Foreman said. "You cannot get where you need to get with Prop. 301 alone, even with a full one cent. It's a first step."
His organization, Ducey and numerous other state education groups have backed Expect More Arizona's progress meter, which indicates key areas to improving Arizona's education system include teacher pay, preschool enrollment, third-grade reading levels, high school graduation rates and access to college and advanced certifications.
"The meter won't move without fuel," Foreman said. "The question is, do we have the political will to put it to the voters?"