Arizona legislators’ efforts to provide K-12 teachers a pay raise due to a state-wide teacher shortage crisis as they hammer out a budget, could help attract and keep teachers in the state’s classrooms, according to a recent report.
Arizona elementary school teacher pay is the lowest in the nation when adjusted for cost-of-living, and Arizona high school teacher pay ranks 48th out of the 50 states, according to the Morrison Institute for Public Policy’s report “Finding & Keeping Educators in Arizona’s Classrooms,” which will be released in May. The report was funded by the Arizona Community Foundation, Helios Education Foundation and The Pike and Susan Sullivan Foundation.
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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proposed raising teacher pay by 0.4 percent each year for five years in his State of the State speech in January, but Democrat and Republican state legislators say it’s not enough. The Republicans’ budget proposal includes a 1 percent pay raise for teachers this year, while the Democrats’ proposal includes a 4 percent pay raise.
“What the governor’s proposing is $15 a month raises,” said Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat from Dist. 9 in Tucson and assistant minority leader, in a recent Arizona Public Media article. “Four-tenths of 1 percent is not going to do it. We can still come up with a 4 percent teacher raise, which is significant enough to make a dent in the teacher retention crisis.”
The Governor’s proposal would provide a raise of about $168 a year for teachers earning the average salary of $42,000. The Republicans’ proposal would provide an increase of $420 a year and the proposal by Democrats would provide an increase of $1,680 on that same salary. A plan proposed by AZ Schools Now, a group of parents, teachers, business, school board members faith-based leaders and children’s advocates, would provide teachers a 4 percent raise, which is similar to the Democrats’ plan.
What teachers are paid and how they are supported shows “how highly we think of students and their education,” said Steve Seleznow, president and CEO of Arizona Community Foundation and a former school administrator. “If we value the education our children receive, we must provide teachers compensation commensurate with those values,” Seleznow said.
“Teachers don’t necessarily become part of this profession for the pay, but they should not be penalized or discouraged from following their passion to help kids, because they see that becoming a teacher will not provide them with an adequate salary,” said Bryan Fields, superintendent of Joseph City Unified School District which serves about 420 students in Navajo County.
Keeping teachers in the classroom
About 42 percent of Arizona teachers hired in 2013 left the profession within three years, according to the report, which includes a survey of 1,600 district and charter school teachers statewide.
Right now, more teachers are leaving the profession than graduating with education degrees from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona combined, noted Dan Hunting, principal researcher of the report and senior policy analyst at the Morrison Institute.
Disillusionment, low pay, a feeling of a lack of support and retirement are cited by teachers as reasons contributing to their decision to leave the profession.
“The teacher shortage is urgent, critical and very real,” said Rachel Yanof, senior director of educational initiatives for The Pike and Susan Sullivan Foundation. “It is imperative that those with the position to influence policy read this report and act in a manner that will stem this crisis as quickly as possible. Our children deserve it.”
Sponsors of Senate Bill 1042, now moving through the legislature, say eliminating some of Arizona’s certification requirements would make it easier for professionals with experience in math, science and civics to teach those subjects in the classroom.
But the bill does little to address the reasons behind the teacher shortage.
“The main cause of problems with teacher recruitment in Arizona is not how hard it is to get a teaching certificate, it’s that the pay’s not good and it’s a hard job,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association.
The report found that 74 percent of the 300 Arizona school administrators surveyed said their campuses are experiencing a shortage of teachers, confirming administrators’ difficulty in recruiting certified teachers to fill open classroom positions as reported in Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association surveys in August and November 2016.
Right now, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association is surveying its members to find out about current open teaching positions to bring awareness to decision makers and education advocates as the state budget is being considered.
Of the 51 school districts and charter schools with early responses to this survey, there are 1,941 teacher vacancies next year, and administrators at the majority of those schools said they have 0 to 1 application per vacancy, said Justin Wing, past president of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.
“There continues to be deep concerns from Human Resources professionals with the number of vacancies and little from the applicant pool to fill them,” Wing said.
There are 230 school districts, 406 charter holders and 13 joint technological education districts in Arizona, so the total number of current teacher vacancies will be considerably greater, Wing said.
“Research shows that the most important variable in a student’s success is the teacher,” said Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “We must focus on recruiting and retaining great teachers so that our students have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.”