Advocates focus on raising teacher pay, school funding as session nears - AZEdNews
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Advocates focus on raising teacher pay, school funding as session nears

A Teacher And Student Greet Legislators As They Returned To The Capitol April 30, 2018. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Seventy-eight percent of Arizona voters say K-12 teachers’ salaries are too low and 73 percent say schools need more money in a poll released before the legislative session starts Jan. 14 in Phoenix.

For the fourth consecutive year, voters said education remains the top issue facing the state during a poll of 600 Arizonans conducted Dec. 10-12, 2018 by HighGround Inc. on behalf of Expect More Arizona.

“Education is the key to unlocking the potential of individuals and communities in our state. The success of every student is vital to our state’s economic prosperity and civic health and everyone’s quality of life,” said Christine M. Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona.

“That is why Expect More Arizona will work with our partners and network of supporters to advance policies that help ensure all students receive an excellent education every step of the way,” Thompson said.

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Teachers prepare for legislative session

Teachers are gearing up for the legislative session, by wearing #RedForEd on Wednesday, Jan. 9, going to Arizona Educators United regional planning meetings on Jan. 12, listening to Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State Address on Jan. 14 and sharing their thoughts about it on social media.

Educators are also preparing for walk-ins at their schools on Jan. 16, and they plan to attend education committee meetings at the House at 2 p.m. Jan. 28 and in the Senate at 2 p.m. on Jan. 29.

Education advocates concerns

Last week, PBS’ Arizona Horizon host Ted Simons asked if events last year changed the dynamic for education in Arizona.

“Well, I hope it did. I hope the people who work at the legislature and the governor himself saw that the public really does see a crisis in education,” said Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association on the show. “It goes beyond simply the classroom, the classroom teacher we need to have more counselors, we need to have those support systems in our schools, and we were able to move the needle a little bit, but there’s so much work to be done.”

Last year, Arizona Legislators approved renewing Prop. 301, protecting a critical revenue stream that would have expired in 2021 that public schools rely on when creating their budgets, restored $1.8 million in career and technical education funding that had been cut in previous years, and approved Gov. Ducey’s plan to restore $94.9 million of the $2.4 billion cuts in additional assistance since 2009, and his plan to raise teacher’s salaries by 20 percent by 2020.

“We give the governor credit for moving that forward. Our attitude then and now is this is fantastic. We need this money in the classroom today, but it’s yes, and … The $300 million and that money to follow doesn’t get us to where we were in terms of inflation adjusted dollars before the recession hit,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association on the show.

Jim Zaharis, executive vice president of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition said, “We’re looking for a long-term, stable revenue stream to fund education K-12 and actually P-20,” as well as the state paying half of all Arizona students’ in-state university tuition.

Proposed legislation

Among the legislation that teachers and education advocates will be watching this session are Rep. Kelly Townsend’s House Bill 2032 which would require charter schools to comply with state laws that apply to school districts.

Education advocates are concerned about Townsend and Rep. Mark Finchem’s House Bill 2002, which would require the Arizona State Board of Education to adopt an educator code of ethics that prohibits educators from political, ideological or religious advocacy in the classroom.

“School districts are well aware of their responsibilities with regard to this issue,” Kotterman said. “When teachers have crossed the line, they have been disciplined for it. That doesn’t happen very often.”

In response to the Arizona teachers’ walk-out in April last year, Townsend’s House Bill 2017 would prohibit schools from shutting down except during breaks and holidays and House Bill 2018  would require the attorney general to investigate any action taken by a school governing board or district employees that lawmakers allege violates the law.

Rebecca Garelli, a teacher and #RedForEd organizer, told the Arizona Capitol Times that she’s frustrated that lawmakers are focusing on punitive measures rather than funding a workable solution.