Yesterday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey gave his State of the State Address after controversy surfaced over giving his staff an average of 18% pay raises (including one 125% pay raise) around the same time Arizona teachers and social workers received barely a fraction of that. One would assume he’d want to remedy that in a speech to the legislature and the entire state. But did he make it up to teachers?
Not even remotely. Criticized in an op-ed as “[failing] to step up for schools,” Ducey praised the current school system, which was currently ranked in the bottom 10 states for education. He “tragically” failed to propose a solution for Arizona to adequately fund its schools or pay Arizona teachers anywhere near the national average.
American Bridge spokesperson Lizzy Price made the following statement:
“Doug Ducey had a chance to stand up for Arizona schoolchildren and their teachers, but he failed miserably. The egregious pay raises he gave his own staff above teachers make it clear where his priorities lie – his own political career over the education of Arizona children.”
Take a look at the coverage:
Well, that was a speech for the ages. Gov. Doug Ducey took to the podium on Monday and laid out a rather astonishing plan for Arizona in the coming year.
And by astonishing I mean there was precious little there there.
You’ll excuse me if I fail to get all whoo-hooo, until I see how he defines “full commitment.” I still recall last year’s State of the State speech wherein on Monday he talked about how we must value teachers and on Friday he released a budget that proposed giving them a 4/10ths of a percent pay raise.
Ducey says he’s committed $1.7 billion in new state spending for K-12 over the last three years. But how much of that was money that had been illegally withheld from the schools – money a judge ordered the state to hand over?
And how far is the so-called education governor willing to go to support some of the nation’s most poorly funded schools? To raise the pay of some of the nation’s most poorly paid teachers? To stop the stampede out of the classrooms and ensure that our children are being taught by people who are actually qualified to teach?
Here’s what I didn’t hear in Ducey’s speech:
— No commitment to boosting state spending on public education to what it was a decade ago. In fiscal 2008, state aid was $4,949 per student. This year, it’s $4,760 – or $4,200 when adjusted for inflation, according to JLBC.
— No pledge to doing the hard thing – to leading the way regardless of the political pitfalls and finding a new source of funding to feed the schools that have spent far too long on a crash diet.
Ducey could have called for a freeze in still-to-be-phased-in corporate tax cuts and saved $22 million. He could have called for an end to tax credits for private school tuition and saved $150 million. He could have tossed out the tax credit for public school extracurricular activities and saved another $57 million.
He could have called for hiring back all the laid-off tax collectors and auditors at the state Department of Revenue in order to boost compliance and bring in perhaps another $70 million.
He could have acknowledged that decades of tax cuts have left this state unable to properly fund the schools. He could have proposed a solution to fix, finally, the mess that we are in.
That he didn’t is tragic. Oh, not so much for you and me but for our children and grandchildren.
But Linda Lyon, president of the Arizona School Boards Association, has an idea of what she believes would meet the definition. Lyon said adding $1 billion to current funding would finally bring teacher salaries in Arizona up to the national average.
Lyon, a member of the Oracle Elementary School District governing board, also derided legislators who, when asked to boost funding, say the state is doing the best it can, what with 43 percent of the budget going to K-12 education.
“It isn’t the percentage,” she said. “It’s the size of the pie.”
That goes to the coalition’s contention that various tax breaks have reduced the state’s revenues which, in turn, leave less for education.
Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, said all that is taking a toll, particularly on attracting and retaining qualified teachers. She cited statistics showing that 2,000 classrooms are without a permanent, qualified teacher four months into the school year.
“When are enough teachers going to be lost?” she asked.
Lyon also said while Ducey and lawmakers boast about not having increased taxes, they’re not being intellectually honest. What has happened, she said, is local voters are forced to approve bonds and overrides to cover the cost of things that should be the state’s responsibility.
“That’s money that’s been pushed down to the local level,” Lyon said. “The taxation is still happening.”
Some business leaders have been floating the idea of asking voters for a sales tax increase to fund teacher salary hikes and other education needs. But at this point they want to wait until 2020.
Naimark, however, said that’s too long to wait. And she said if legislators don’t make meaningful additions to K-12 funding this year her group and others will push for a ballot initiative in November to raise the funds.