As Doug Ducey faces anger from teachers, supporters spend $1 million on education ads
A business coalition spent over $1 million on TV ads to promote the state's education system and help Gov. Doug Ducey, who is under attack from rank-and-file teachers who are among the worst paid in the nation. Arizona Education Project
A business coalition composed of Gov. Doug Ducey's allies has spent more than $1 million on TV ads promoting Arizona's public education system as the Republican governor faces mounting criticism from teachers furious with their low pay.
The Arizona Education Project, a non-profit corporation that wants to promote positive developments in schools, recently eclipsed the seven-figure spending mark, and has no plans to stop running the upbeat ads.
Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the group, said the campaign is "ongoing" to combat a negative public perception about the state's education system.
"The message is we are making progress. We haven't reached where we want to get on student achievement or funding public schools, but we are making progress," said Benson, a Republican operative who was the former spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer.
Benson said "mainstream business organizations" who believe "it doesn't do anyone any good if all we do is bad mouth what is happening in Arizona classrooms" are paying for the ads.
Gov. Doug Ducey said investment in teacher salaries has increased 9 percent since 2015. Is he right? AZ Fact Check takes a look.
Groups funding the ads include Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent of Arizona Public Service Co., Services Group of America, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
READ MORE ON EDUCATION:
While the groups have traditionally supported Ducey, they cannot legally coordinate ads with the governor's re-election campaign.
Ducey's tax cuts and policies to fire auditors and collectors at the Department of Revenue have benefited the business community. The state lost $83 million in corporate audit tax revenue last year, though Ducey's budget plan includes money to hire back some of those workers.
Ads cost more than $100K per week
The group has aired three TV ads since Jan. 22, spending more than $100,000 a week. Benson confirmed spending has eclipsed $1 million.
However, it's unknown who has made the most significant financial contribution because the group is not required to disclose that information and Benson declined to do so.
The most recent ad features a claim, repeated in the other ads, that school funding has increased by $1.5 billion the past three years. It also features two teachers who express optimism about Arizona schools. Benson said one of the teachers is from a charter school, while the other works at a public district school.
While education spending is up under Ducey, a chunk of that additional money came from voter-approved Proposition 123. That measure paid for a court settlement after the state failed to properly fund schools, with the money coming from the state land trust.
Even with the increased spending, per-pupil state funding — when adjusted for inflation — has decreased by about $900 since 2008. It is about $4,100 today, down from nearly $5,100 in 2008, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Teacher protests over pay get bigger
As the non-profit group continues to run TV ads, roughly 300 educators staged a protest Monday outside a Phoenix radio station where Ducey was conducting an interview.
The protest was the latest effort to further the Arizona Educators United movement that started March 7 when thousands of educators wore red to school in support of higher wages.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, said the business groups should instead spend their money to help retain teachers by increasing their pay.
"I've talked to a lot of teachers, families of teachers and Arizona voters, and I've not heard a single person yet say they are convinced by the ads," she said. "When you don't fund schools so they can achieve and produce the best workforce then you have to invest a lot of money to polish your image."
Save Our Schools Arizona, formed to oppose a Ducey-backed voucher-style system that would let all school kids apply to use public money for private school tuition, spent $25 to produce a video on social media to counter the business group.
Arizona ranks 49th, 50th in teacher pay
The median salary for Arizona elementary school teachers in 2016, adjusted for regional purchasing power, was $42,474. The median salary for high school teachers was $47,890.
Teachers across Arizona participated in the #RedForEd movement that protested low wages for teachers.
When all state salaries are adjusted in this way, Arizona ranks 50th in the nation for elementary teacher salaries, and 49th for high school teacher salaries, according an analysis by Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Oklahoma ranked 50th for high school teachers.
Further, Arizona teachers for the past decade have had to increase their contributions into the Arizona State Retirement System.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8478 or on Twitter @charrisazrep.