Robb: This should be #RedforEd's next move (hint: it's not a teacher strike)
Teachers across Arizona participated in the #RedForEd movement that protested low wages for teachers.
Robert Robb: The #RedforEd movement has sparked discussion of an Arizona teacher strike. Here's a more productive way to channel the energy.hannel the energy.
The #RedforEd movement has sparked discussion about a teachers strike in Arizona, comparable to what just took place in West Virginia. Some are even egging Arizona teachers on.
After a short strike, the West Virginia state legislature approved a 5 percent raise.
Missing from the giddy sense of empowerment is any sober analysis of what a teachers strike might accomplish in Arizona.
Teacher pay in Arizona isn’t determined by the Legislature. It is set at the school district or charter level. And, to be blunt, Arizona teachers shouldn’t want their pay to be set by the Legislature.
What would a strike accomplish in Arizona?
Gov. Doug Ducey made a colossal blunder when he proposed that the state get into the teacher pay business by approving what turned out to be a 1 percent bonus at the state level.
He meant it as a sweetener to the pay hikes teachers would receive in the normal course of events given the increase in state funding, in significant part as a result of the passage of Proposition 123. The average teacher in Arizona has received a raise of nearly 5 percent since then, according to the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, or roughly what the strike in West Virginia produced.
But Ducey’s proposal got spun as all he thought teachers should get. And it directed attention about teacher pay to the state and away from the districts and charter operators.
Of course, the Legislature largely determines how much money the districts and charters have for all operational expenses, including teacher pay. Might a strike force legislators to pony up more?
You need a tax hike to fund that
To simplify the math, there are in the vicinity of 50,000 public school teachers in Arizona. So, a $5,000 increase in pay would cost roughly $250 million. A $10,000 raise would cost $500 million.
Without a tax increase, the state doesn’t have that kind of money. So, a strike would have to induce the Legislature to vote to increase taxes to produce anything meaningful.
According to the state Constitution, it requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to enact a tax increase. And a three-fourths vote to overcome a gubernatorial veto.
This governor and this Legislature aren’t going to approve a tax increase for K-12 education, irrespective of how long a strike might endure.
Let’s assume that the 2018 election goes well for Democrats, and they take over the governorship and both chambers of the Legislature. Does anyone really believe that, even in the aftermath of a Democratic tidal wave, there won’t be 21 conservative Republicans in the House or 11 of them in the Senate willing to stop a tax increase?
A better path: Extend Prop. 301 tax now
There are, however, ways in which the #RedforEd energy can be constructively channeled. One of the movement’s memes has been: Where’s the plan? If the goal of the plan is to restore K-12 funding to around its prerecession level, neither the governor nor the Republican legislative leadership have one. And that’s understandably a source of frustration.
However, there is an identifiable path forward, which the #RedforEd movement could help make a reality.
The first step is passage of House Bill 2158. That would extend the existing Proposition 301 education sales tax, due to expire in 2021, for an additional eight years.
That bill also requires a two-thirds vote, since technically it increases taxes above what current law would provide. But, since in reality it’s not an increase over what is currently being paid, even some conservative Republicans are willing to support it.
The votes in the Legislature are there, or very close to being there. What’s needed is for Ducey or the GOP legislature leadership to give the effort just a minor push.
Then fight for a tax increase in 2020
If #RedforEd would make passage of HB 2158 its current cause, and direct its activism toward the governor and legislative leadership to get behind it, that might very well make the difference.
HB 2158, of course, only keeps intact what K-12 education already has. A meaningful increase in teacher pay requires a tax increase.
There are those in the business community who think that, if Ducey is reelected, his opposition to a tax increase will soften. I think they are mistaken.
Regardless, the support is there – in the education and business communities – to put a tax increase for education on the ballot in 2020 one way or another. The grassroots energy of #RedforEd and Save our Schools will be important to overcoming what’s sure to be difficult opposition, whether led by Ducey or not.
There is widespread, bipartisan support for doing something meaningful on teacher pay in Arizona. The lack of a plan by state leaders is understandably frustrating. There are, however, highly productive uses of the #RedforEd energy that won’t jeopardize that support.
A strike isn’t one of them.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.
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