Home>Education/Schools>AZ Senate and House Republicans Announce Teacher Pay Hike Plan

State GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit, shown here on Oct. 29, 2016 at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, accused an earlier plan to raise teacher pay of 'raiding' the Permanent School Trust Fund. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

AZ Senate and House Republicans Announce Teacher Pay Hike Plan

Program said to increase salaries by $4K per year without raising taxes

By Steve Kirwan, November 16, 2023 6:23 am

Touting wins in tax relief to Arizona families and renters, State Republicans are focusing on a new financial boon, this time for Arizona teachers. In a move seen by some as a preemptive strike against a traditionally Democrat election issue, House and Senate Republicans seek to renew and refocus Proposition 123. Initially passed in 2015, the proposition earmarks funds from the State Land Trust, which manages revenues from approximately 10M acres of public land in Arizona, for public schools. The proposition raised fund outflows for schools from 2.5% to 6.9%, coupled with $625M from the State’s general fund ($50M/year from 2015-2020 and then $75M/year from 2021-2025).

The pending sunset of Prop 123 in 2025 has Republicans calling for an overhaul that would not only extend the date but mandate that funds be used solely for teacher salary increases to the tune of an average of $4k/year per teacher. Currently, the State can allocate the funds as it sees fit, sometimes for programs that don’t directly benefit teachers and students. The primary benefit of using Prop 123 funds is its minimal impact on taxes, an advantage crucial in light of expected budget shortfalls in the next fiscal year attributable to inflationary pressures.

Republicans believe the dedicated funding will help keep and bring new qualified teachers into Arizona’s struggling public education program. In a statement released Monday, 11/13/23, Senate President Warren Petersen said, “This initiative will allow Arizona to be more competitive in teacher salaries, boosting teacher pay in Arizona above the national average, and making a big increase to starting teacher pay. We believe we can continue this dedicated funding source long-term because the fund has already grown exponentially over the last eight years, even during tumultuous economic times.”

Senator Ken Bennett echoed those sentiments, adding, “Republicans have led the charge in dedicating billions of new dollars to K-12 education, on top of Prop 123 funds and inflationary increases, but unfortunately not enough of those dollars are getting into our classrooms or to our teachers. Arizona teachers right now make about $56,700, on average. This proposal will increase teacher pay to an average of over $60,000. We can– and we should– do better. This is a responsible proposal that won’t create a new tax burden for our citizens.”

However, some with a vested interest in the status quo spending plan take exception to the Republican plan. In an article in the Arizona Republic on Nov 14, 2023, Beth Lewis of Save Our Schools, a registered 501(c)4 social welfare organization, characterized the proposed salary guarantees as “smoke and mirrors” and “minimal,” griping that the State continues failing to address school shortfalls, taking the opportunity to knock Arizona’s voucher program for private schools. She accused Republicans of trying to score political points because of recent successes in statewide bond elections and the lessons of the importance of education issues from last week’s elections in Ohio.

In that same article, Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association teachers’ union, stated she liked the idea of helping public schools but accused Republicans of rejecting the union’s previous proposals. She acknowledged waiting to see the bill’s language before passing judgment.

Somewhat surprisingly, Jeff DeWit, current chair of the Arizona Republican Party, repeated the alarm he raised before Proposition 123 passed initially. As Arizona state treasurer, he opposed the plan, accusing it of “raiding” the constitutionally protected Permanent School Trust Fund. His wife is a former teacher.

That said, Republicans are moving forward with their plan. Senator Jake Hoffman summed up the Republican position, stating, “Supporting students and families by making sure every classroom has a well-paid, high-quality teacher is common sense. Arizona’s children are one of the most valuable populations within our state. Ensuring they have the best possible educational opportunities and choices is our greatest hope for protecting freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for generations to come.”

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