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.
?“My proposal would generate $400 million annually for teacher salaries and school buildings,” Douglas said in a statement. “By setting aside the majority of this funding for teacher salaries, we will provide close to an 11 percent raise for teachers in the first year, which means nearly $5,000 more in take-home pay. Using the remaining funding for school facilities can help address another looming crisis, which is the depreciation of our school buildings and infrastructure.”
Douglas made the announcement Thursday morning alongside the Arizona Business Education Coalition and other education leaders.
“Only an overarching vision and decisive action will allow us to solve our current education crises, the first of which is that teachers need to be paid more,” Douglas said in her statement. “I thank the governor and Legislature for making teacher pay an important part of their budget discussions this session, and I look forward to working with them to take this next step once a budget is finalized.”
She did not indicate when she would like the measure put before voters. It would likely require preliminary legislative approval. It is generally too late for new legislation to be introduced this session unless it is part of the budget, but could occur during a special session or during the regular session next year and still qualify for the fall 2018 ballot.
Specifically, she is proposing $300 million a year to fund the one-time 11 percent teacher salary hike and $100 million a year to the School Facilities Board for school repairs for the first two years of the expansion. After that, the plan calls for $350 million a year to cover the teacher salaries and $50 million a year to the School Facilities Board.
Ducey and the Legislature are in the midst of negotiating next year’s budget. Ducey has proposed a .04 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.
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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.
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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 Proposition 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 an expansion.
“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. “This is a funding program, and we’re going to continue a funding program.”
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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.
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.
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